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MMO rants

I like to blog about things that I've found bothersome in current MMOs. So expect a lot posts about things I dislike and about how I feel they should be changed.

Author: beregar

Are levels necessary in MMOs?

Posted by beregar Wednesday October 6 2010 at 4:33AM
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This is a question that has been bothering me for a long time and I've tried to find an answer to it. What sparked this post are the recent Guild Wars 2 articles about equipment and rewards. ArenaNet seems to go through a lot of trouble to ensure you can't outlevel your equipment (the way how they handle sets, transfer of skins) yet they still level gate areas and enemies.

This leads to a few standard MMO problems:

  • the only reason to go back to lower level areas is nostalgia as the rewards are of no use to high level player
  • a few years into game's life lower level areas are devoid of people since most players have reached max level
  • area design inevitably focuses on end game content meaning that there will be limited paths to go through the content which is problematic if you are like me and enjoy having multiple characters
  • players breeze through initial areas and then complain there is no enough end game content

Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. The question is are levels necessary in MMOs?

Yes in a sense that the key benefit of a leveling system is that it gives a sense of progress. Max level is a goal and each level is a nice little milestone while leveling up.

No in a sense that I feel it is completelly unnecessary to level gate enemies, equipment, and areas because I've yet to see a mmo where this amounts to actual progress.


Let's look at enemies first. Can anyone name a game where there really is a difference between level 1 and maximum level enemies? Traditionally games have been about slaying cute woodland critters to progress through the game. Does it really matter if it's level 1 spider or level 60 spider if the only difference is reskin? Even if this is not the case and you slay dragons at level 1 then what exactly is the diference slaying a dragon at level 60?


Similarly in most games the only difference between level 1 equipment and level 60 equipment is skin of the item and multiplier to stats. So at level 1 your warrior wields iron sword with +3 to str, +2 to dex and +5 to stamina and at level 60 the same warrior wields ubersword of slaying with +300 to str, +200 to dex and +500 to stamina.


Enemy and equipment levels force game designers to desginate level range for areas. There are level 1-5 areas, level 6-10 areas etc. The end result is that a few years in game's life, when everyone is max level, these lower level areas are devoid of people. Start a new character? Sure, but do you really want to go through same 1-3 paths to max level with every new character? This also means that there are initially less content to be explored once you hit maximum level because designers have to guarantee there's enough content to actually get you to maximum level.


I ask again? Why level gate areas, equipment and enemies if the end result is that there really isn't real difference between the low level and the high level content, and that there is less leveling paths and eventually obsolete content for players to experience?