Time to End the Concept of Levels?

Yesterday’s discussion about level/world scaling and a comment from one of our readers really got me thinking more and more about levels in MMORPGs. Do we really need them? Are they still a core tenet of MMORPG design?

More and more the answer is becoming, “No.”

World of Warcraft has long been without need for levels. Today the patch basically took 120 levels and condensed them into 7. For years online games, MMO, MMORPG, or otherwise, have tried to implement ways in which players of disparate levels can come together. ESO scaled their entire world. EQ2 has had mentoring (and scaling?) for years. The list goes on.

Many of these games are about simply playing and having fun doing something when you log in instead of playing in the one or two zones prescribed. There are positives and negatives with that statement.

In general, progression can still be had without the official institution of levels. We can use skill points, achievements, and alternate advancement in their place. Games can be made where the world isn’t broken up by level requirements, rather progression requirements. This post won’t specify the best route, rather propose there are other routes which may work well, even for people who enjoy the “ding.”

I would love an open-world MMORPG where I’m not given a label or a number to indicate my advancement. I think I might appreciate knowledge of how good I am at using a sword or shield and armor, and then going out and seeing what I’m capable of accomplishing.

There’s no doubting levels have meant less over the years, particularly in the highly-dominant themepark genre where getting the end is where it all begins. And before Bhagpuss comments about never reaching end-game and playing the game to level only and having fun there, amen brother. I agree. If only the entire game was the journey to the end — that was my EverQuest experience. These games, however, are simply, and sadly, not designed that way.

Thoughts? Impressions?

  • Heh! Got me there.

    I would hate to lose numerical progression or clear power ramping though. Expansions that keep the same level cap are always unsatisfying. I also would hate to lose the ability to completely trivialize lower-level content. Part of the reason I like leveling up is so that I can one-shot things. That actually increases my re-use of older zones. If I had to fight everything at level I’d never want to go back to an area I’d seen.

    That said, there’s room for a number of different designs. Every MMO doesn’t have to be like every other. I’m confident there’s still a large enough audience that wants levels to support MMOs that want to use them and the opposite, too.

    • “Expansions that keep the same level cap are always unsatisfying.”

      Have to disagree here. Some of the best expansions ever came without raising level cap. Everquest’s Scars of Velious, DAoC’s Shrouded Isles, and SWG’s Jump to Lightspeed all come to mind.

  • People play even wow for different reasons, while to you the leveling journey in wow wasn’t why you played the game it actually was for me, as witnessed by my many many high level characters out of which none of them had raid gear except my first ever character during vanilla.

    • Oh don’t get me wrong, the leveling in WoW was the best part. It just wasn’t designed to be the core of the game anymore. And just because levels are removed doesn’t necessarily mean the experience of progressing from a newbie to an end-game player is gone. It would just radically change it. This isn’t something we can possibly conceive of doing to WoW, but if a game released today similar to WoW but didn’t track your progression in terms of levels we could have an even better leveling experience without sacrificing that end-game either.

      If I could go back in time and do it over again, I wouldn’t raid in Legion. I would have just leveled, maybe leveled and alt, and quit. Except for ICC, I hated just about all end-game in WoW.

  • I think it depends on the type of game.

    For linear, story driven MMOs, then levels make sense (or for any story based advancement game). I’m thinking FFXIV as a good example.

    For more open world, exploration based games, then levels don’t make near as much sense. I’m thinking of GW2 and ESO as good examples of exploration based progression.

    Personally, i would like to see a mix. i really like the ability point collection in ESO and GW2, and also the mini events and things scattered through zones… but i also like a good story, and a sense of moving toward an end goal, and not being lost with too many options… it’s a difficult balancing act that no game has really gotten right yet.

    • I actually think story driven games have the biggest argument against it. The story drives the progress.

      Why can’t we simply have every player character and enemy with the same 100% health bar that’s the same size, and just keep it simply on the stats? There’s no need for my attack damage to go from 6 per hit at the start of the game to 6000 by the end. When my enemies had 18 health at the start, and 18k at the end, the only thing that’s been accomplished is the developers made the whole job of building mobs, gear, etc more time intensive. You can power scale weapons and armor with unique effects or abilities. No need for progressive stat growth. My wooden training sword can suck cause it does 5-7 damage with no effects. The iron sword can be marginally better cause it does 6-8 damage with a 10% bonus against leather. My epic master sword that binds the darkness can rock cause it does 10-11 damage with a 30% chance to light my target on fire, 100% chance to banish summoned enemies, and +100% damage bonus against demons named Ganon+ a few more cool buffs.

      Why do we need swords that do 6 damage, and swords that do 6000 damage? There’s a great deal many “horizontal” ways you can make later game gear cooler than “early” gear.

      Monsters? Give them new and unique abilities as the game progresses. The same 100hp monster with 5 abilities is far more dangerous than the one with a single ability. It doesn’t need more HP, cause I’m not progressively scaling the players power, only their options.

      Throw in some Breathe of the Wild type durability, and even that wooden training sword has a purpose against weaker enemies. Using it saves your cool stuff for when you really need it.