Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless (especially levels)

I’m with Stargrace here — I heard about this World of Warcraft insta-level 80 thing and just shook my head in disbelief.  It feels like Blizzard is becoming more and more desperate to retain/regain players, and while companies always should be trying their best to get as many players as possible, is this really the best way?  Just continue to sell out the core foundation of your game because convenience and instant gratification is popular.  Obviously, whatever’s popular is the best thing for your game, right?

This isn’t new, not even for Blizzard.  DDO sells insta-level 7 characters, WoW’s Death Knights start at level 55, AoC allows players to hopscotch levels, and so on.  I know some people who have no problem with this, but I do, because it betrays one of the most basic foundations of RPGs: Levels matter.  Levels represent accomplishment and achievement — of time and effort spent, of skill used, of a journey progressed.  If one can simply bypass leveling, then why have it?  Seriously.

Now, maybe you don’t like levels.  Maybe you see them as a product of a bygone era and you’d love to see a different system.  Fair enough.  Personally, I think they’re so ingrained into both RPGs and video games in general that they’re hard to extract without causing a void that really needs to be filled with some other way to represent a player’s progress in the game — and I’ve always enjoyed the “leveling game” more than the endgame of any MMO.  It’s going to be interesting to see how titles like The Secret World are going to fare with a reduced emphasis on leveling, but at least in that case Funcom is structuring the game from the very start to be as such.

But no matter if you like levels or not, the fact is that Blizzard created a level-based MMO, and if it didn’t like levels, it shouldn’t have done so.  It shouldn’t decide years down the road to negate any meaning to levels by offering a fast-lane to the top, but the studio’s been progressing toward this for years — Death Knights, faster leveling, huge XP bumps, and so on.  Now?  It’s meaningless.  You’re a level 80?  You spent six days /played getting there?  Whooptydoo — I just clicked a button and here I am, five levels away from the cap.  Guess that makes us equal.  Nevermind that I have no idea how to play my class nor will be effective in groups because of my ignorance.  Nevermind that it negates 80 levels’ worth of content that developers hand-crafted for player enjoyment.  Nevermind that the leveling journey introduces a player to the story of the world and connects them to what’s going on in it.  DING, SUCKA, DING!

I’ve heard arguments that this will allow new players to catch up with their friends, but this is the wrong way to go about doing it.  City of Heroes and EverQuest II have excellent sidekick/mentoring systems that temporarily change levels to get people to pair up — but their overall progress remains the same.  That seems like a good system to me.  Maybe it was too hard to do for WoW.  Maybe making instant 80s was way easier.

So, no, Syp doesn’t like it when a game decides that it’s going to ignore one of the rules it set up for itself in the name of a cheap player grab.  I don’t like it in WoW or anywhere else, for that matter.

21 thoughts on “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless (especially levels)

  1. Klepsacovic March 7, 2012 / 8:16 am

    I guess the Azeroth remake wasn’t bringing in enough former players and they figured, “You know what was ruining the raiding game? All those levels below it.”

  2. Roger Edwards (@ModeratePeril) March 7, 2012 / 8:25 am

    The old/existing customers opinions don’t count for Jack I’m afraid. See our good friend Turbine for further clarification. Most developers are only concerned about the new cash that a fresh customer brings.

    This “join a buddy and auto level up” concept will more than likely be a winner for WoW.

    I was on the Bullroarer tests server for LOTRO recently and I went to the Eyes and Guard tavern to auto level up. It occurred to me as I stood their gaining all the experience that it took three years for my regular toon to get, that this service could be sold easily for a premium price.

    It’s just a case of when.

    MMOs are no longer niche market. Mass appeal simply leads to commercialisation which inevitably changes the dynamic of a game.

    Plus, if we don’t like this sort of thing what effectively can we do to stop it? I believe the answer is nothing.

  3. Moxie March 7, 2012 / 10:00 am

    Un-freaking-believable.

    I would argue that since Cataclysm, their leveling content is strongest at the lower levels. Even Fargo (the lead quest/world dev) said that the old world stuff is good, but the new 80-85 content is disjointed, rushed, and not as good as what they would have liked. So basically they’re letting you skip their strongest content and putting you right into their weakest leveling content.

    It’s sad. At this point I feel like logging my characters in one last time for proper funerals.

  4. CunningB March 7, 2012 / 10:07 am

    *sigh* another storm in a teacup.

    So people can skip the leveling if the don’t enjoy it and get to a part of the game they will enjoy and the ability to play with more experienced friends.

    You can ignore the promotion if you don’t want to skip the content, it’s completely optional.

    That’s right it’s OPTIONAL

    Talk about first world issues >.>

    So what exactly is there to complain about again?

  5. CunningB March 7, 2012 / 10:18 am

    Oh and just to add your ignoring the limitations, the scroll can only be used on paid accounts that have been active prior to 3rd of March 2012 and that have been inactive for at least 3 months. It’s not going to be something people can rush to exploit.

    You can’t buy a new account now wait for three months and pop a scroll on it.

  6. ZombiePirate March 7, 2012 / 10:21 am

    I still hold to the fact that SWG had one of the best skill systems ever. You could effectively respec whenever you wanted (I’m talking about original SWG not the NGE class-based crap) and you could customise what skills you had. Yes the system wasn’t perfect but it was a hell of a lot better than the WoWification that came later on. There were no levels, some mobs were harder than other depending on your skills. Yes, it was a sandboxy game and I know that’s not for everyone, but i still think their PvE combat system was sound and I know that I enjoyed it an awful lot.

  7. ScytheNoire March 7, 2012 / 10:25 am

    WoW is old school. Levels are dead.

    Now we have two new methods:
    TSW’s skill wheel system that has no levels
    GW2’s level scaling, putting you at the level for the content, with side-kicking included

    Blizzard has given up on WoW. Mists of Pandabearshit is just a money grab for China. They care nothing about the North America market, already giving up on it. This is just another example of that.

  8. Vatec March 7, 2012 / 10:54 am

    @CunningB – Two points against it, really.

    A. You could just as easily argue: I don’t like raiding, I’d like to skip that and get the gear that I will enjoy.

    B. Depending on how many levels you skip, odds are you’ll be totally incompetent at the higher level due to lack of practice with the class.

    I’ve never been a fan of the whole “level rapidly to the cap then jump on the gear treadmill” school of game design. That’s one of the reasons I never jumped on the WoW bandwagon: even back in 2004, leveling in WoW was a joke compared to every other game out there. It says a lot about the decline of the MMO hobby that WoW has only gotten easier since then….

  9. aurgon March 7, 2012 / 11:12 am

    I think skipping everything 1 – 80 is a complete waste of the best content in WoW, but I also think that levels in the traditional since are an archaic mechanic that do nothing but put up artificial barriers between other players and content, and should be done away with.

  10. Dink March 7, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    I would play more characters if I didn’t have to level them. I play a healer my raid team needs, if I got one at level 85 today. I’d even tank for my 5 man off nights if they gave me one at level 85. But, since I have to level one, forget it. I’d like to play a shaman in PvP, but I don’t becuase the thought of leveling one to 85 make want to vomit.

    I’ll give blizzard $10 per level 85 character I can buy.

  11. Telwyn March 7, 2012 / 12:15 pm

    I suppose it fits in with their model of funneling players as quickly as possible to the LFD-> LFR zone so they have more ‘fresh meat’ for the grindathon. More clueless players who have spent so little time on their characters in any actually challenging situations…

    I really don’t see how Mists or any future expansions can repair the mess they’ve made of that game.

  12. Gina March 7, 2012 / 12:28 pm

    Honestly, I wish the whole Diku thing had never happened. I was happy as a clam in UO with a skill-based system, and I avoided EQ when it came out like the plague.

    Still waiting for UO with updated graphics… though I must admit that I love having a story crafted for me instead of having to make my own up, as in SWTOR. However, when I finish my favorite character’s story, I plan to unsub until new story content arrives (and not group content).

    I was hoping to go back to LotRO because I really love playing with an NPC companion now, but Turbine has seen to crush that dream. Maybe EQ2 again since they added a very logical mercenary system?

  13. BeetleZombie March 7, 2012 / 12:50 pm

    It makes sence actually. If I bring back a friend, it is for a reason, to enjoy the game together. And with the system in place, my resurrected friend can enjoy playing together faster, and doesn’t have to go through 80 levels of fast grinding to get to me.

    So basically, Blizzard is making it easy and appealing to it’s players. I really don’t get the ‘Oh but now he won’t know his class’ attitude.
    I see players everyday in groups that have been playing their class from level 1 to 85 and still don’t know how to play proper, so that argument doesn’t fly for a second. Actually, I have people in my guild that are playing their class for ages and still don’t know how to play proper, that can’t make 10k DPS in a dungeon.

    I like alts, have 6 level 85 characters. If Blizzard offered a paid service where one could buy a premade level 85 character I’d spend money on that in a micro-second. No more Northrend … oh the joy …

  14. biophazer242 March 7, 2012 / 1:08 pm

    The entire ‘you play your class wrong’ attitude was really a contributing factor in why I left my guild, then WoW entirely.

  15. bhagpuss March 7, 2012 / 1:23 pm

    I just posted a longer reply over at MMOQuests but to cut to the chase, leveling and endgame are different games. Time’s coming for them to be developed, marketed and sold separately.

    I would love an MMO that had nothing but leveling with no endgame at all. Max level? Live in the world or start an alt. Conversely there need to be MMOs that start with your character fully finished in terms of levels, letting you start on the gear grind raiding or whatever they have for an endgame right away.

    The two playstyles have never been better than uneasy bedfellows and mostly they have been virtual strangers. Split em up.

  16. Tesh March 7, 2012 / 2:25 pm

    I’ll second Bhagpuss on this one. I do think this particular band-aid is overengineerred and byzantine, but that’s the Blizzard Way (see Transmogrification). The larger game design problem is the leveling/raiding dichotomy. Split them already.

    (This also touches on something I wrote about yesterday, where narrative that starts in solo play and culminates in raids is, well, Bad Design.)

  17. Vatec March 7, 2012 / 3:18 pm

    @BeetleZombie – Other games have provided a far more elegant means of playing with friends that are behind the curve. It’s called “mentoring.” EQ2 and City of Heroes have particularly robust systems that allow max-level characters to reduce their own level so they can run low-level content with their friends. Why rob your friends of the =best= part of most games: the leveling game? Endgames generally suck bowling balls through drinking straws: grind, grind, and more grind.

    As for why so many max-level players still don’t know how to play their classes? The leveling game is so faceroll easy that they’ve never =had= to learn. But at least they had the opportunity. Shortcut players to 80 and they don’t even get the opportunity.

    @Biophazer242 – The whole reason that attitude became so prevalent is specifically because of the dichotomy between the leveling game (so easy anyone can do it) and the raiding game (difficulty varies by game and expansion, but generally considerably more challenging than leveling). So many players just hurrdedurr to max level and then are shocked when they actually have to learn something to play the endgame. That doesn’t excuse players from acting like jerks about it, but when some players have actually made the effort to learn, it’s probably quite frustrating for them to be saddled with players who appear (truthfully or not) to not even have made that effort.

  18. Richard March 7, 2012 / 3:23 pm

    I don’t really see a big problem. It’s not like people are being given every single class at max level, they get one toon. And these are returning players that at least have a clue how to play the game/class, so I don’t think the “they won’t know how to play” argument holds as much water as some think it does.

    It may be that the reason I left WoW was because my maxed Druid got boring to me, but I didn’t care to level another class up. Well now I’m being offered a maxed out Rogue or Priest or whatever sounds interesting, maybe I want to play again. Most of these returning players will have played through the old content already, no big deal there imo.

    I think what people should be more upset about is having spent $40 on Cataclysm plus so many months sub while these schlubs that didn’t even bother to pick it up might get it for free 😉

    Also, random aside to @Vatec: I think side-stepping raiding should be an option. Maybe a player enjoys smaller group play more, or PvP or whatever. Give them an option to earn the gear differently, but not necessarily more easily. LoTRO has a similar system with all it’s tokens and skirmish marks and whatnot. We can skip doing certain dungeons to get class items by skirmishing a whole hell of a lot, which can be done solo. It’s not easy or quick, just a different approach.

  19. Richard March 7, 2012 / 3:27 pm

    Also, doesn’t the Dungeon Finder take in to account gear score when pairing people? That is essentially a measure of how often you’ve run instances. And although it’s not perfect (repetition does not equal skill), it’s a decent measure outside of flaky “player feedback” systems that typically only serve to punish bad players rather than reward good ones. So these new 80’s will be put in to groups with other people learning to play. Trial by fire, if you ask me. Plus, I think the hope is that the friend that invited you back will run around with you to teach you the finer elements of the upper-level game and your class.

  20. Jeremy Stratton March 7, 2012 / 10:09 pm

    Many MMOs have sold out the core foundations of their game, completely, many years ago. This is a purely business move, not a game decision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s