In Achaea, my relationship with the level system, and the activity we commonly call "bashing," has shifted a few times over the years.
For the longest time, I wasn't into bashing at all. In fact, the aspects of Achaea that are "game-like"--the things that most games consist of entirely, like combat and puzzle-solving--didn't hold much appeal for me. I was more interested in the richly imagined world of roleplay, as a citizen of Shallam and later, as a leader of the now-defunct Holy Church. I would look for excuses not to participate in the group city raids which were the most frequent kind of multiplayer PvP, and I would avoid PvE bashing and questing like the plague. I was level 58 for over a hundred in-game years--a ludicrously low level, but one I stubbornly refused to surmount! To top it off, I was a Grook, at a time when Grooks had the lowest health of any race in the game, making it all the harder to stay alive long enough to make progress.
I was baffled, at the time, by the people that seemed content to go hunting for hours at a time, repeatedly clearing out villages, dungeons, and forests, piling up the corpses, offering them at shrines, every now and then reaping +30 health and +40 mana and 5 lessons. And even as I pushed forward to level 70 and then level 80 (a much more reasonable stopping place for a bashing non-enthusiast than level 58), my feelings didn't much change.
It's only in the last year that things have changed, and recently I found myself bashing one day and realized: I had become a basher! One of "those people". I was even entertaining the thought of trying to become a dragon (the end-game prize in terms of hunting, representing the culmination of a huge amount of time spent on the activity). Partly this was because of a change in my temperament, but I'd like to list some other factors, what I feel are great improvements to the Achaean PvE environment compared to, say, 2004.
- More areas. Years ago, Achaea had an order of magnitude fewer areas than it does now. Shuttling back and forth between Azdun and Moghedu was dreary. Now there are at least a half dozen areas that are ideal for whatever experience level a character is at, and for most levels, far more than half a dozen.
- Part and parcel with the "more areas," there are more areas that are appropriate for higher-level hunters. The Underworld, Annwyn, most of Meropis, the Lupine Hunting Grounds, etc. Of those I named, only the Lupine Hunting Grounds was available Back in the Day. The dearth of high level bashing early on was the reason that Achaea went for years without anyone reaching level 99 and getting the promised dragonform.
- More gold. Denizens drop gold now! When I started in Achaea, they did not, believe it or not. Practically the only way to generate gold was to kill rats and sell them to city ratcatchers. As a result you had people going as high as level 70 almost exclusively by killing copious numbers of the little vermin.
- Availability of comprehensive curing systems. When I got my start, the technology surrounding Achaea was nothing like what it is today. I played on Gmud, with only a rudimentary auto-sipper, and then on Nexus, with a rudimentary autosipper, and then a rough but serviceable system called Vadi-m. Now I'm on Mudlet, with the popular system called Svo.
- Svo also reduces the repetitive strain associated with bashing by mechanizing the actual "bashing" part. Where before I manually waited to recover balance and then entered my attack command again, now I enter a single command that will keep whacking away at a target until it's dead, I'm dead, or I tell it to stop. Omnipave is another fully modern curing system, and its creator recently released it as a free download, meaning that everybody can use a free top-of-the-line client (Mudlet) and a free system. This is a huge boon to accessibility for the less tech-savvy, the less inclined to script their own systems.
- Bound credits: additional bundles of credits every 5 to 10 levels. This is another thing that didn't exist when I was coming up.
- Butchering. Certain animals can now be butchered for cooking and tattoo ink-making ingredients. Breaks up the monotony, provides another positive reinforcement.
- Traits. The most recent addition to make leveling up more appealing. Every ten levels or so up to level 90, players get an additional beneficial trait; 3 "major" traits (stat boosts, eq or balance boosts) and a smattering of "minor" traits that range from the amusing (sound like you're drunk all the time!) to the small-bore but useful (whistle for your mount even if you've left it on an island).
- Party tells. Make it much easier to chat amongst yourselves while bashing in a group. This combined with xp bonuses for bashing with your proteges, and for bashing with House-mates, makes bashing a more potentially social activity.
So all those are my excuses. Listing them all really brings home how vastly Achaea's PvE has improved over the years. But the real reason I've taken a shine to bashing, of late, is that I realized what those fanatics liked about it in the first place. It occupies my brain and my hands, but it usually isn't difficult enough to stress me out. I think a lot of people "grind" to relieve stress, veg out a little bit, yet still see that they are accomplishing something tangible and quantifiable. That's the last element: I got "Innersight" in Vision, which allows me to see each time I gain a thousandth part of a level--and that more frequent reinforcement is psychologically pretty important.
Having said all that, thank the gods there are a million other things to do in the Iron Realms when I don't feel like working on the level treadmill.