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MMORPGs: The Leveling System

Posted by lordaltay1 Thursday June 19 2008 at 8:28PM
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Almost every Mmorpg today, free to play or pay to play, has the same system of advancement, and that’s the leveling system. There are so many things wrong with the leveling system that I’m surprised it’s still the standard today. Games like Eve Online and Ultima Online both have unique systems based on skill gain rather than simply “leveling up” to get stronger. Players instead focus on training specific skills and become more proficient at what they character does, rather than just *Ding* I’m stronger now.

The leveling system unbalances dueling and PvP. If you’re a level 30 warrior, theres no way in hell you’re going to beat a level 45 player, even if you have superior equipment, as you probably won’t even hit them, as the level difference tilts the outcome of the fight on the higher level player almost all of the time. Under the standard Mmorpg leveling system, there is no motivation for lower level players to participate in PvP as they will always get destroyed by higher level players. In World of Warcraft, higher level players are free to slaughter lower level players anywhere in the game, which can get frustrating. There is nothing wrong with stronger players killing weaker players, but when that weaker play has absolutely no possible way to defend himself it can ruin the game.

The leveling system promotes grinding. Players will always want to reach the highest possible level and will grind for hundreds of hours to do so, and grinding isn’t fun. Players have the mentality that once they become stronger and reach maximum level they’ll start to have more fun. It’s like working for hundreds of hours with the goal of having fun in the future. Games like MapleStory and Perfect World are notorious for this kind of game play, where players are disillusioned to believe that once they are higher level, they’ll have more fun. The leveling system also allows developers to introduce cheap new additions to their games like “increased level cap” or “faster experience days” rather than actual new content.

Two games that totally reinvented player advancement in MMOs are Eve Online and Ultima Online. Both games have absolutely no leveling. In order to progress in Eve Online, players have to select a skill in order to train and training that particular skill will take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This sort of progression system allows for players to be able to fully customize and control their character growth, as they’re selecting what to become proficient with, rather than the game controlling their growth. Since players simply can’t be good at everything in Eve Online, they usually choose to specialize in certain skills, but the fact that there are thousands of ways to build your character’s skills makes Eve Online a unique gaming experience. There Is an obvious drawback to this system though, as players who started playing when the game was first released simply have more skills trained than people starting the game today.

Players in Ultima Online advanced by actually using the skills they wanted to become proficient in. Players that wanted to become swordsmen would have to physically equip a sword and start killing monsters with a sword weapon equipped. Players wouldn’t advance based on how many monsters they killed, but rather how many times used their sword in combat. The game had over 30 different skills, all of which could be used by anyone in the game. The game did have a skill cap of “700” which meant that players could only have a total of 700 skill points and Each skill could be improved up to a maximum of 100. This system allowed players to be 100% in control of their characters development. If you wanted to have 50 of skill X and 70 of skill y and 25 of skill z you had the freedom to do so. There were almost infinite different ways to grow your character. Another positive aspect about Ultima Online’s skill system was that players could at any time decide to forget a particular skill and work on another one, which allowed players to reshape their characters from a warrior to a blacksmith at anytime. This sort of character development led to the birth of hybrid classes like “Tank Mage” where players would advance a mixture of both warrior skills and magician skills.

Unfortunately, developers today have all almost abandoned the idea of non level based progression. Since the wild success of World of Warcraft, developers will most likely try and copy the success that World of Warcraft. Developers simply don’t want to risk trying to reinvent a system that has been working for years.


vajuras writes:

Good blog I really look forward to reading what you write. I will have to visit the main site. Always refreshing to read writings by a blogger that actually gets out there and plays games. Hope you stick around :P

Fri Jun 20 2008 12:16AM Report
fansede writes:

The Skill versus level debate is eternal.  Skill advocates are PvPers and look at the system in this prism. People advocating more of a PvE experience take comfort in the simpler class/ level system.

WoW wasn't the first game to implement class / level systems. Everquest was very successful in its day and still has staying power a decade later. 

I can only surmise that if gamers demand better graphics, innovative gameplay, etc.  a design system has to be created to easily plug in abilities, tweak easily for balance and provide a sense of uniqueness for the player. While Level based systems fall short of this goal, skill based systems don't reach it either. 

So I think for PvP games like EvE,  low graphic 2d games like UO, skill gameplay is a more suitable system.

Fri Jun 20 2008 6:33AM Report
Brutus001 writes:


Skill Advocates are not just PvPers, they happen to be RP'ers as well. Using a skill and gaining in that skill (crafing, social, or combat) falls directly in to an RP venue of choice instead of having an arbitrary class system where everybody is the same (no matter how played). Skill systems are for RP'ers as well, perhaps even more so than PvPers.

Fri Jun 20 2008 7:16AM Report
Rollotamasi writes:

Don't get me wrong, I like skill based (USe the skill to lvl it) more then xp/lvl systems but the bottom line is that they are still the same thing.  Players will still grind, it is just looks alittle difference.  I remeber having to grind my sword skill in FFXI.  This meant going and hitting shit and waiting for the skill to lvl up.

Fri Jun 20 2008 7:39AM Report
vajuras writes:

"The Skill versus level debate is eternal.  Skill advocates are PvPers and look at the system in this prism. People advocating more of a PvE experience take comfort in the simpler class/ level system."

You obviously never been exposed to Elder Scrolls series have you? It's a skill-based game and so will Fallout 3 be. There is no PvP in those titles yet players still scream for more complex systems

Two Worlds was also freeform.

Fri Jun 20 2008 10:05AM Report
vajuras writes:

I forget there are many other sandbox titles you can checkout too that were purely coop. Like Crackdown xbox360 for instance


Fri Jun 20 2008 10:07AM Report
vajuras writes:

"Don't get me wrong, I like skill based (USe the skill to lvl it) more then xp/lvl systems but the bottom line is that they are still the same thing.  Players will still grind, it is just looks alittle difference.  I remeber having to grind my sword skill in FFXI.  This meant going and hitting shit and waiting for the skill to lvl up."

Trust me, Linear mmorgs like WoW, EQ, FFXI, etc- when they have a grindy use-based system in place that differs vastly from a full blown skill-based system. The difference between Ultima Online, Elder Scrolls, etc vs Theme PArk style is very vast. Sure, both systems can be grindy. Any system can be. That is not the point

Skill-based systems allow you to dynamically build your own Class.

In a traditional Theme PArk you pick a Class the Developer's already created for you

Big, huge difference.

Fri Jun 20 2008 10:50AM Report
Norem writes:

Since nobody else has directly pointed out the pink elephant in the corner, I will:  the skill system goes hand in hand with a classless or semi-classless mmo.  In my opinion thats the most compelling arguement for such a system.  Actually my favorite system so far was Planetside, which let you put points into various skills and the higher level you were the more points you had to put in.  What was great about that system was that you spent the points to get the skill and that was it, no grinding or improving it.  So a level 1 player was just as "strong" as a level twelve player but had many less options and versatility.

Sat Jun 21 2008 1:17AM Report
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