I’ve noticed a growing contingent of MMO bloggers that say levels are an out-dated concept and should be gotten rid of. “Everyone races to cap anyway,” they say, “so levels are just a way for developers to slow us down and suck more money out of us.” “The real game doesn’t begin until cap anyway,” others say, “so why not let us just start at cap?”
I thought it was time I stuck my oar in for the opposition. I play these games for the levels (and my ego isn’t big enough to believe I’m unique in any fashion, this point included). There is something primally satisfying about gaining levels; its a way of building a character, and I enjoy building things, both physical and virtual. I enjoy in-game crafting too, and I wonder how much correlation there is between people who enjoying “leveling up” and people who enjoy crafting.
I should pause to point out that this is a different argument from the one between class-based and skill-based systems. I’m fine with skill-based systems, where instead of gaining levels you gain skills… same difference for the sake of today’s argument: you’re still progressing a character from weak to mighty.
This weekend in EQ2 I gained 4 levels on one character, which really clarified some of the reasons I find leveling so much fun. We generally start using skills in distinct patterns as we play these games (hypothetical example: we use a skill that debuff’s the target’s fire resistance, then follow it up with skill that buffs our fire offensive rating, and then finally a fire attack on the target) to the point where some folks actually make macros to do the same sequence of skills over and over again. But what happens when you level? You gain new skills. And that means you need to re-evaluate your ‘combat patterns’ to see if there’s a more efficient way to use those skills. It mixes things up and keeps the game interesting.
Then there’s the aspirational issue. We see dragons and giants and we’re, yeah, killing ten rats. But to me, that’s a huge part of the satisfaction of these games. I can’t fight a dragon *now* but if I keep at it, I’ll become strong enough that I can finally get out there and fight the big dramatic creatures. If I could fight dragons the day I created a character well…that wouldn’t feel all that special.
The MMO[not-RPG] blogging community might be yelling for a revolutionary change to the DikuMUD leveling scheme in the games we play, but there are those of us who *like* things the way they are. I do believe there’re enough players to support both the evolutionary products and some hypothetical revolutionary ones, but I’m going to hazard a guess there are a lot of rank & file, non-blogging gamers that are delighted by the systems they’re enjoying today in LOTRO, EQ2, WOW, and a host of other level-based, aspirational-driven games.
Game devs, let us keep growing our characters! That’s where all the fun is!!