I touched briefly on the idea of character advancement in yesterday’s post, and I think it warrants further discussion. Right now MMOs seem to have one common theme: Pick a class, quest to level, unlock all abilities, then do end-game activities to get loot to make your abilities better. That’s the gist of character advancement. If I were responsible for looking at how characters would advance, level up, improve, etc., in a MMO here’s what I would do.
Play-style should radically change based upon one’s chosen profession. I use the word profession in its truest sense. Wizards being blacksmiths, blacksmiths being thieves, everyone being everything, it just doesn’t make much sense to me. Professions require extensive training, prolonged study, and practice. I like when players need to specialize and choose a path. Be one thing, and have the game be capable of supporting whatever choice you make by providing a unique and 100% fulfilling experience.
Blacksmiths should become better blacksmiths by making weapons. Thieves should become better at stealing and moving about undetected by actually trying to do so. Warriors wanting to increase their strength and skill with a blade should have to go out and slay beasts. I like when I see that my character has become better at using swords because I have actually used a sword. I’m not a believer in universal advancement or “choose where your point goes” systems. If you use a sword and gain a level, why should you be able to increase your armor value? I’m not saying that everything should make perfect and realistic sense — it’s a game after all — but these things are capable of being great gameplay mechanics.
It’s not the ‘weapon’ that matters, it’s how you use it
Magical attributes on weapons are out of control. We went from the days of Longsword +1, to named items, to items with +850 Strength, +50% attack speed, +284 Dexterity, and the ability to proc fireballs. We long ago reached the point where our actual ‘characters’ are now our weapons and armor. That ‘thing’ we control with WASD is just an empty shell. Our ‘characters’ in today’s MMOS are randomly dropped or bought with tokens.
I believe the character you level and spend time advancing and specializing should make up 80-90% or more of the equation. Weapons and armor are tools. I’m all in favor of providing that carrot on the stick and desire to obtain more powerful artifacts, but not at such a high price.
I would remove the concept that skill = items, macros, addons, and rotations. Ability should be based on how you’ve chosen to build your character combined with how well you control him or her beyond which the order in which you use abilities. Ever group with a good healer in EverQuest? Knowing when to heal requires instinct, anticipation, and understanding of each and every mob you encountered. Conserving mana required forethought and efficiency. Playing with a good Enchanter was like watching a master working his trade. The way they orchestrate the fights and control every second of timing means life or death for everyone. So you see, skill is not always based on twitch or rotation but in understanding and experience.
Effort and Reward
Advancement should take time and effort. I know many of you reading will disagree. I truly believe that for any character to have honestly advanced and not fall into the trappings of random advancement, universal advancement, or item advancement, there must be effort involved. Effort can take time, and if a game is designed around the idea of legitimate character advancement then such actions will not feel like work or feel like they take time; You will feel like you are playing a game and building something, earning something, and as a result you will see and feel the rewards you’ve earned.