I just don’t have the kind of time I used to have when it comes to levelling in an MMORPG. Too often, it’s a time consuming process wherein in order to get the full value out of it, you end up having to read line after line of quest text. The current reliance within the industry on the time hog quest-to-level system can’t possibly be the only item in a developer’s bag of tricks, can it?
I think that there are tangible ways that developers and players alike can cut down on the time sink without necessarily compromising the game’s challenge.
When did you last read quest text? I use Questhelper now in WoW. Why? Because I have limited time to play. So if I only have two hours I really want to make sure I maximize my time. I can complete double the amount of quests using Questhelper in that time for even more experience. Very rarely do I read the quest text. Tell me what to go kill or collect, show me on the map, and let me play the game. I do not need story, or advice. I understand there are players who enjoy reading the quests and there are purists who don’t use add-ons. Still for me with limited play time, those luxuries are gone. Every now and then I stop and smell the virtual roses, taking time to read through story or enjoy the quest line but for the most part, I just don’t have the time.
So, there must be another solution. A way that we can at least eliminate the time consuming process of reading long boxes of quest text. What about replacing the current norm with voice dialogue or cut scenes? With Bioware claiming to have no text in The Old Republic, will this become the norm for MMOs or will cut scenes like the awesome one WoW’s Lich King pick up the mantle?
In the end, neither of these solutions is particularly appealing to gamers like me. At least with quest text I have the choice not to sit and watch it for a few minutes. I can pick up the quest and move forward. With cut scenes now giving us our leveling goals, hopefully it will not cut my two hour play time down to one hour of play and one hour of NPC movies.
So maybe it’s not the way that leveling speed is affected by quests at all. Maybe in the end, it’s the levels themselves that simply must go.
Ultima Online had an open world environment with monsters of all levels. It had full on PvP, but if you decided to take part and kill someone, you were branded a criminal and were forced to stay outside the cities. Most of all, the game had no levels. You raised skills based on using them. Using a sword would raise the sword or fencing skill. Mace, Magic, Fishing, Tailoring, etc. were all skills a player can raise. There was a cap on skills and players would max out the best cap for what they liked to do. There was no leveling.
It is funny how EverQuest started the leveling trend and MMOs have rarely looked back. Everything is based on level. Players have come to call the process of leveling the grind. This has been a rough patch for players and developers over the years. I have seen developers explain that players must run across the continent to complete a quest, because it would keep them playing longer. On the other hand, I have seen players get angry at developers for making certain raids too easy and accessible to everyone. It is a double edged sword any way you slice it. Can a balance to leveling and advancement ever be found between players and developers?
In the end, this is a very difficult question to answer and this column has barely scratched the surface. The question really comes down to the players. If you are a player with a lot of time on your hands you can take the time to read through everything and enjoy leveling and questing for the experience. If you have limited time then getting through the levels to enjoy the end game content is almost a chore. Maximizing your time is different. Both player types enjoy the game in their own way. Games like Earthrise will be a throw back to the Ultima Online system. Will players discover the old and make it new again? I always felt this system worked very well, curious to see how it performs. Game time is critical and players with limited time need systems to help them maximize their efforts. As more of these systems come into play, perhaps we will think of leveling completely differently in the coming years but for now, I’m going to have to keep making the best out of my two hours, use my add-ons and try to find fun wherever I can.