Progression as Longevity
If there's one thing I think will keep me playing Elder Scrolls Online long past the level cap, it's not the three-faction PVP, the story, or the dungeons. It's the idea that my character can continue to get more powerful beyond the level cap without some arbitrary gear grind. Now, we know that ESO is planning dungeons and gear to be a part of the endgame. But, that's never been a draw for me when it comes to being at the max in level-based games. I know that it works for some folks, but aside from the adventure itself, combing through a massive world, what really keeps me playing is the notion of character development.
Gear is a small part of that in my eyes, but a part nonetheless. The obtaining of items is fun, but along the way in a level-based game it is ancillary to the more meaningful progression of your character. Getting new skills, new abilities, and so forth is a lot more compelling to me as a gamer. And were gear hunting not such a grind of repetitive content at the max level, I might not have any trouble with it. I understand that just as a developer can't give players infinite levels, they can't give players an infinite amount of stats, skills, and abilities. I would actually question why you can't let players level infinitely, if content and competitive play was scaled and capped at certain levels (think GW2), but that's a whole other column for a different day.
No, today I'm writing this to say that I think the lads and lasses at Zenimax Online Studios are onto something quite suitable to my tastes with their character progression and leveling. There is still a level cap of fifty, and you will only have as many stat points as can be gained to assign in those fifty levels, but your character can grow laterally and obtain a whole set of different skills and abilities long after the traditional level cap has been reached. You might have leveled your two-handed swords all the while through the game, but there will still be several other weapons to progress through. There will also be the other armor types to level up, since any class can wear any armor and each armor has skills tied to it as well.
The only real problem I see with this system of alternate advancement is that a player who enjoys his shield-wielding, heavy armor wearing warrior might not care to level up light armor and a staff to see how that build changes his character. And that's okay, because that player can look forward to the hunt for bigger and better items, crafting, and PVP accomplishments as well. In my ideal theme park game, I need a sense of actual character progression to keep me going at the cap. I will love trying one character in a variety of different builds, leveling his or her weapons and armors up, and seeing what sort of mix and match I can achieve.
If ZOS' Elder Scrolls Online is going to serve players a traditional theme park endgame of dungeons, raids, and PVP I can live with that as long as I get what I want: continued character building well beyond the level cap. Now, this s all assuming that the folks at Zenimax don't have something else entirely up their sleeve. Either way, I'm going to be happily maxing out everything about Murphicus the Magnificent (note: not actually a name I'd choose) before I ever worry about shiny loots and the gear treadmill. I'll only kindly ask that ZOS steer clear of that gear-grind altogether, if they want to make many more folks happy. But, that's another request for another column.