MMOs have evolved in many ways, but sometimes players (and this cuts across veterans and newer MMO arrivals) want to sit down and enjoy a good multi-course meal spiced with good conversation, music, a couple of drinks, and spending time with one another over a quick fast food stop. Leveling speed is a topic for debate, and it's been brought up as both a positive and a negative aspect from the press impressions for The Elder Scrolls Online. It's worth examining in its own right, as the content a game has and its pace of player progression can impact the player base, the community, and more.
When it comes to games today, many MMORPGs feel like the entire experience just zips right by. With some games seeing people arriving at cap in three days, five, or a week, it can feel like others are rushing through. Yet, with many titles seemingly throwing XP at you for anything short of breathing, there are some ways in which devs are complicit with these consumers,sometimes referred to “content locusts”, in treating the bulk of the progression and leveling as some sort of filler that's there to be there until maxing levels and reaching endgame (the 'real' game).
The MMORPG genre, developers, and the audience have all gone through shifts together. Some of the devs on today's games were just sitting there falling in love with MMOs a decade ago and that legacy carries over. Some of the players might feel pushed out or might be used to games that focus on endgame and various numbers with a content shell wrapped around it. We've come on the journey together and we're here, for better or worse. But playing in the press beta for ESO gave me a glimmer of hope for something I haven't really experienced in a while – an MMO that feels like it could strike a good balance between progression and content. What some criticize as slow leveling is really a game where leveling is more decentralized.
Part of the problem in some games is that the focus is a little too top heavy. Endgame becomes the buzz word and it can feel that the rest of the game is underdeveloped or minimally so. While there will be endgame events in this game, personally, I have hope that there will be things to do along the way and it will feel more like a journey again. Already, after playing for a bit, it doesn't just feel like following a trail of breadcrumbs from one hub to the next, and that's a big plus. That said, starter areas do feel like starter areas, and will get you going. But you have a choice how long you take to complete them and they don't just feel like a series of throwaway quests. As you progress, you’ll have different options open up to you and the choices feel right for TES.
The Elder Scrolls Online is pretty, but isn't a flashy game. Armor looks realistic in style. There are no numbers wildly flying around the minimalist UI. While there will be those who rush through the quest content and try to max everything they can, then min-maxing at every opportunity for PvP and beyond, there is room for many of the rest of us to play a game that openly encourages doing other things along the way and, more importantly, has built the systems into the game to support these other activities. What seems to have been missing is a game that doesn't just wrap the leveling portion of the game in throwaway content that feels repetitive and devs openly calling Endgame the real game. For some of us, especially the more exploration and socially-inclined, we're not always in the biggest rush to cap. We want the game's content to not run out, to blend flexibility and options for living in the world.