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[Column] General: Levels are Great, Skills are Swell

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 16,649MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

Leveling up is how we determine how well we are doing playing the MMOs we love. In today's Devil's Advocate, we take a look at the nature of leveling and present pros and cons of the ways it's handled in most of today's games. Check it out and then leave your thoughts in the comments.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the nature of progression. Not gear progression, mind you, but rather the way we represent character growth in an MMORPG. The idea of using levels to determine character progression is the standard upon which most MMORPGs are built, but there's also something to be said about more freeform modes of determining character growth, such as using a skill-based system. 

Read more of Victor Barreiro Jr.'s The Devil's Advocate: Levels are Great, Skills are Swell.

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Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
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Comments

  • HrimnirHrimnir Qeynos, COPosts: 1,597Member Uncommon
     
     

    I dont want to post a long diatribe, so ill ljust put these two cents in:

    Everquest 1.   Levels in that game (at least for the first expansions) were not used for anything other than to put a cap on your skill levels.  I.e. 1H Slash, 2H Blunt, etc.  Levels weren't used to determine how hard or if you could hit a mob, etc.  They weren't used for gear purposes.

    Levels are only a valid use of progression when they take a reasonable amount of time to obtain.  This is why D&D had so few levels.  It was always meant to be a very important tick in the book of your characters progression.

    In current MMOs people hate levels because they are relegted to arbitrary, easily seen through barriers, most importantly a barrier to the all important "end game", a term which never existed back in EQ1 days.

    Levels and classes are an important and neccesary part of a PVE oriented MMO, developers just need to have the stones to not cater to ultra casual whining about leveling time and such.

     

    "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."

    - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 13,676Member Uncommon

    Levels work very well in a game with only one path. For example, in WOW and most mainstream MMOs, you can only play a genocidal murderer. Any other career path is not only secondary to murdering but tied directly to it. In most mainstream MMOs, you cannot equip a hat you just crafted until your murder level is equal or greater than the murder level of the hat. Most go even farther in the restrictions, making it such that you cannot possible create that next tier of hats until you have satisfied the appropriate murder requirement of the hat you wish to create.

    The more paths a character can take in an MMO, the more the current level system - adopted from PnP with the same flaws it had back then - falls apart.

    Levels work great for WOW. I think WOW would actually be a lesser game if it was skill-based (UO, EVE) or, worse, playerskill-based (Puzzle Pirates). Each system has its place, and it is entire dependent on the focus and design of each game.

     

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
    "Graphics are often supplied by Engines that (some) MMORPG's are built in" - Spuffyre

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,222Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Hrimnir
     
     

    I dont want to post a long diatribe, so ill ljust put these two cents in:

    Everquest 1.   Levels in that game (at least for the first expansions) were not used for anything other than to put a cap on your skill levels.  I.e. 1H Slash, 2H Blunt, etc.  Levels weren't used to determine how hard or if you could hit a mob, etc.  They weren't used for gear purposes.

    Levels are only a valid use of progression when they take a reasonable amount of time to obtain.  This is why D&D had so few levels.  It was always meant to be a very important tick in the book of your characters progression.

    In current MMOs people hate levels because they are relegted to arbitrary, easily seen through barriers, most importantly a barrier to the all important "end game", a term which never existed back in EQ1 days.

    Levels and classes are an important and neccesary part of a PVE oriented MMO, developers just need to have the stones to not cater to ultra casual whining about leveling time and such.

    I think your denigrating comment about casuals is totally misplaced.  Casuals aren't the ones typically complaining about leveling speed or restrictions.  It is the raiders and the hardcore pvp types that bitch about levels and restrictions.

    Take RIFT as an example. The fast leveling speed in that game is there, not for the casuals, but so raiders can get up to speed as quickly as possible and raid with their peers.  Alternate Advancement in RIFT just got the shit nerfed out of it so raiders don't have to waste time grinding AA so they can min-max.  PVP players complain about being weaker and not on a level playing field.  They not only don't seem to like a level system, but gear tiers as well.

    Casuals seem more than happy to go at their own pace as long as they can participate.  If there are any nerfs or requests by casuals I would say they want an easier option for content completion rather than everything being hardmode only.  They even seem to accept of a slower rewards scale granted for easier content compared to hard.

    As far as levels go, most of us like to measure progress in one manner or another.  Levels provide that, although I agree that trivial levels minimize the effect they're in place to provide.

  • WizardryWizardry Ontario, CanadaPosts: 8,466Member Uncommon

    Leveling is treated like crap and how players treat it is sickening.

    Levels in reality give ZSRO indication of anything,other than to say you have a number beside your name.Actually levels in 99.9% of all MMORPG's is a mere sense of how many quests you have done.Since 90+% of quests are doable by ANYONE,usually solo as well,it says nothing about your player.

    Skills are hit n miss in every game,some ideas are ok some are just dumb.

    AN example of good>>>Having separate weapon skills,example 5/100 in Axe or 15/100 in Sword ect ect.

    Bad idea>>>You get 2 points a level to spend.You want to put both into fire but the game says no you can only put one per level,so in essence pretending to be a free system is totally restricted.This is why i always hate this type of system,everything is restricted including many spells/abilities until you actually gain the proper level.You might say well that is the same as option 1,yes it is,but option 1 is not trying to fool me into beleiveing i have some free system to design my player,i don't like misleading games.


    Samoan Diamond

  • YamotaYamota LondonPosts: 6,620Member

    Levels are nothing but a primitive way of measuring the power of your character and is used primarily in ThemePark MMO's which have such structured content. When I played pen and paper RPGs, waaaay back, there was nothing as generic as a level. Rather it was the level of your sword skill, your attributes, gear and dice rolls which decided the outcome.

    The whole concept of level as the determining factor of your characters power should be abolished. It is simplistic and as such makes the game simplistic.

  • YamotaYamota LondonPosts: 6,620Member
    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Levels work very well in a game with only one path. For example, in WOW and most mainstream MMOs, you can only play a genocidal murderer. Any other career path is not only secondary to murdering but tied directly to it. In most mainstream MMOs, you cannot equip a hat you just crafted until your murder level is equal or greater than the murder level of the hat. Most go even farther in the restrictions, making it such that you cannot possible create that next tier of hats until you have satisfied the appropriate murder requirement of the hat you wish to create.

    The more paths a character can take in an MMO, the more the current level system - adopted from PnP with the same flaws it had back then - falls apart.

    Levels work great for WOW. I think WOW would actually be a lesser game if it was skill-based (UO, EVE) or, worse, playerskill-based (Puzzle Pirates). Each system has its place, and it is entire dependent on the focus and design of each game.

     

    Yeah I dont understand why so many MMORPGs are about kill kill kill instead of actually doing something that requires thought and creativity. Heck even if the killing required thought and creativity it would be more welcome than the simplistic mass-murdering that is currently going on in most MMOs. 

    I guess it is just simpler to cater to the masses that way. *shrug*

    Yet the best movies, such as Batman, are about so much more than just killing. Why can't games be more like that?

  • MyrdynnMyrdynn Beaumont, CAPosts: 1,518Member Uncommon

    Asheron's Call did it perfect.

    Gain EXP to gain levels

    gain levels to gain skill points

    use skill points to buy skills

    spend EXP to increase skills

     

  • Mike-McQueenMike-McQueen Enfield, CTPosts: 243Member
    Way back when someone used to "level!" You'd get the "congrats!" From friends and group members and generally anyone else around you. It was a milestone that often took a long time to get to. Now someone goes "ding!" And even I just wanna smack them. Sad but true. My biggest qualm lately with levels is the power difference between them. IMO 4 level 10's should be able to take a level 20, probably pretty easily too. 

    I'm a unique and beautiful snowflake.

  • RocknissRockniss Youngstown, OHPosts: 1,034Member
    I hate leveling, in fact the only game I ever level capped was world of warcraft and I was barely able to get there, I had 4 lvl 80's, two of them made it up the ranks without granted levels. My hunter took 3 years to yet to 80, my dk started at 55, my shaman started at 50 pretty much granted free levels and my pally I raised from level one all except for a couple granted levels, I couldn't make it past lvl 25 in swtor, and 27 in GW2 before I threw in the white flags, leveling is just bad
  • OzmodanOzmodan Hilliard, OHPosts: 7,191Member Uncommon

    Geez Victor where have you been?  There are several sandbox games that use both levels and skills.  Asheron's Call I believe was the first one.  Levels did not really mean much in AC1, they just indicated you had more skill points to spend.

    To the guy above, attempting to use EQ as an example here is ludicrous, EQ straight jacked you with highly restrictive classes and  a skill system and class system are two extremely different animals.

    And yes it works very well, I consider Asheron's call still to be one of the better MMO's out there if you can by the highly outdated graphics.

  • MetanolMetanol Posts: 247Member Uncommon

    I love leveling in style of Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 - 3.5 e and Pathfinder, but I very much dislike the leveling mechanics of "mainstream MMORPGs". I don't want a fully "skill based" system, where you just level up skills, I want classes with freedom, and with restrictions. D&D for example has a nice set of rules. A Paladin can't multiclass to a Barbarian etc. Bards cannot be Paladins.

    I want my RPGs to give me options, dozens if not hundreds of them. RIFT is probably the best modern MMO with it's class system (Souls), but I find it a bit too restricting too. Not to speak of the gameplay...

    Of course I would totally approve of a ruleset ala Fallout 1 & 2 used in any RPG - MMO or otherwise. Where your levels only allowed you to raise certain things, but there was the skill based mechanics in the back.

    But WoW-leveling? With you picking a Warrior, or a Rogue, and being only IT forever? Nay. The 3 or 4 talent trees are not enough character customization for me. I have this problem with GW2 too. Unlike GW1, where I loved the customization & possibilities.

    We?re all dead, just say it.

  • mikecacklemikecackle City, ILPosts: 151Member

    I cringed at this authors statement. "The trick is to combine the ability of level-based games to have clearly definable linear goals that appeal to people who just want to feel more powerful"

    That is the total opposite of the word fun.

    First of all, everyone wants to feel more powerful, the levels are holding that power back. All this linear restriction this, linear do that.. is what we call BAD LINEAR design... It provides a easy development path, which leads to ultimate boredom.

  • OrtwigOrtwig Cambridge, MAPosts: 1,159Member Uncommon

    My issue with level-based systems is that they inherently cater to, and--I submit--actually generate the "I'm max level, I win" mentality.  Levels focus the player so much on progression they begin to disgregard the actual content of the game.  The result is an obssession with "endgame" grind instead of actual game play.  Yes, a level is an easy thing to focus on, but to what end?  Should MMOs really be set up in a way that promotes "winning" by getting to max-level "first?"  

    I'll admit that a very immersive game can overcome the levelling power up mentality, but the mechanic itself will stil cause some to disregard even the most interesting content.  A game like Skyrim is so well-drawn, it could probably work with levels too, but it works much better with a skill based system.  Character power should sit in the background, and the world itself in the foreground.

    D&D was the first RPG that did levels, but made levels very slow going.  Later games like Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest went skill-based to get away from "power-up" thinking and brought the focus back to where it belonged -- game play and story.

  • HrimnirHrimnir Qeynos, COPosts: 1,597Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Torvaldr
    Originally posted by Hrimnir
     
     

    I dont want to post a long diatribe, so ill ljust put these two cents in:

    Everquest 1.   Levels in that game (at least for the first expansions) were not used for anything other than to put a cap on your skill levels.  I.e. 1H Slash, 2H Blunt, etc.  Levels weren't used to determine how hard or if you could hit a mob, etc.  They weren't used for gear purposes.

    Levels are only a valid use of progression when they take a reasonable amount of time to obtain.  This is why D&D had so few levels.  It was always meant to be a very important tick in the book of your characters progression.

    In current MMOs people hate levels because they are relegted to arbitrary, easily seen through barriers, most importantly a barrier to the all important "end game", a term which never existed back in EQ1 days.

    Levels and classes are an important and neccesary part of a PVE oriented MMO, developers just need to have the stones to not cater to ultra casual whining about leveling time and such.

    I think your denigrating comment about casuals is totally misplaced.  Casuals aren't the ones typically complaining about leveling speed or restrictions.  It is the raiders and the hardcore pvp types that bitch about levels and restrictions.

    Take RIFT as an example. The fast leveling speed in that game is there, not for the casuals, but so raiders can get up to speed as quickly as possible and raid with their peers.  Alternate Advancement in RIFT just got the shit nerfed out of it so raiders don't have to waste time grinding AA so they can min-max.  PVP players complain about being weaker and not on a level playing field.  They not only don't seem to like a level system, but gear tiers as well.

    Casuals seem more than happy to go at their own pace as long as they can participate.  If there are any nerfs or requests by casuals I would say they want an easier option for content completion rather than everything being hardmode only.  They even seem to accept of a slower rewards scale granted for easier content compared to hard.

    As far as levels go, most of us like to measure progress in one manner or another.  Levels provide that, although I agree that trivial levels minimize the effect they're in place to provide.

    I said ultra casuals, not casuals.  I agree with you 100% thats its generally not casuals.  They usually like the fact that they have a lot of content that takes a long time, etc.

    The ones im talking about are the same ones who make posts like "once you get one class to 80 you should be able to start any other character at the same level", or the ones who complain that having to set aside 45 minutes to run a dungeon is unacceptably long, etc.

    "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."

    - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,222Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Hrimnir

    I said ultra casuals, not casuals.  I agree with you 100% thats its generally not casuals.  They usually like the fact that they have a lot of content that takes a long time, etc.

    The ones im talking about are the same ones who make posts like "once you get one class to 80 you should be able to start any other character at the same level", or the ones who complain that having to set aside 45 minutes to run a dungeon is unacceptably long, etc.

    Yeah, I hear ya.  It's funny you mention the max level character whine.  That was my suggestion to the RIFT raiders that wanted account wide PA (alternate advancement).  Obviously Trion caved and they won that round.

  • nsignificnsignific ljPosts: 212Member

    I used to be like that, get to max level and start doing the fun stuff and pwn.

    I just got done leveling in MoP (took me a month!) and I took it slow and enjoyed every step. Took in every detail.

    I don't know if it's because I'm older & smarter about how I consume my content, or if MoP is just so much more interesting. Definitely don't have more free time to spend on leveling, so it's not that.

    No matter what you do, most people will do a mad dash to the "endgame" whatever that is - even if it's just collecting skins (look at GW2, a game that made it a point to blur lines along level differences, yet people disregard it and exploit looping DEs etc).

  • bunnyhopperbunnyhopper LondonPosts: 2,751Member
    Originally posted by Loktofeit

    Levels work very well in a game with only one path. For example, in WOW and most mainstream MMOs, you can only play a genocidal murderer. Any other career path is not only secondary to murdering but tied directly to it. In most mainstream MMOs, you cannot equip a hat you just crafted until your murder level is equal or greater than the murder level of the hat. Most go even farther in the restrictions, making it such that you cannot possible create that next tier of hats until you have satisfied the appropriate murder requirement of the hat you wish to create.

    The more paths a character can take in an MMO, the more the current level system - adopted from PnP with the same flaws it had back then - falls apart.

    Levels work great for WOW. I think WOW would actually be a lesser game if it was skill-based (UO, EVE) or, worse, playerskill-based (Puzzle Pirates). Each system has its place, and it is entire dependent on the focus and design of each game.

     

    Pretty much.

     

    Furthermore, If you are stuck on a linear path, ticking away lot's of levels along that path probably makes it more bearable, in fact it pretty much becomes the key gameplay feature.

    "Come and have a look at what you could have won."

  • hardiconhardicon jackson, MSPosts: 358Member

    imo asherons call already did leveling perfect.  leveling got you new skill points to spend, your experience you earned went to increase your skills.

     

    the wheel was already made on this issue and it was perfectly round and rode great.  All these systems we say in mmos now that are broke was already perfect in older mmos.  the new mmos (warcrack and anything that came after it) is what broke the genre and probably ruined it as well.  we just need a company to go back and look at the old mmos to see what they did right.

  • victorbjrvictorbjr Quezon CityPosts: 186Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Ozmodan

    Geez Victor where have you been?  There are several sandbox games that use both levels and skills.  Asheron's Call I believe was the first one.  Levels did not really mean much in AC1, they just indicated you had more skill points to spend.

    To the guy above, attempting to use EQ as an example here is ludicrous, EQ straight jacked you with highly restrictive classes and  a skill system and class system are two extremely different animals.

    And yes it works very well, I consider Asheron's call still to be one of the better MMO's out there if you can by the highly outdated graphics.

    Hi! Victor here. I have to apologize for the late reply. I think my failing in the article here is that I never played Asheron's Call... and its visibility on my internal radar on must-play games is low because I don't see it talked about often in my circles. In other words, I did not know how Asheron's Call worked, so my premise is slightly skewed based on my experiences. 

    That said, I do believe I will rectify the situation by playing the game and giving it some attention in the next Devil's Advocate, time permitting. I start a new fullt-time job next week, so my time for gameplay will be reduced severely. 

    Thank you though for the input! :D

    A writer and gamer from the Philippines. Loves his mom dearly. :)

    Can also be found on http://www.gamesandgeekery.com

  • Loke666Loke666 MalmöPosts: 18,045Member Uncommon

    I dont like levels.

    The main problem with it is that it sets players apart far too much. It stops me from playing with friends unlike they are the same level.

    They also encourage devs to make a huge gap between newer players and vets, which makes problem A harder.

    They hurt customization since you usually get skills, hitpoints and so on depending on your class instead of allowing you to pick or buy these things for regular XP.

    And they make the game 10 times less realistic, I kill a dragon in one zone and then move to the next just to get killed by a dog. Now, I dont want MMOs to be 100% realistic but 10% would be nice.

    Levels are lazy design, there are better carrots to get players feel that they improve. And instead of having levelrestriction on gear you can restrict it by attributes and/or skills.

    It i the simplest solution to gaining XP but not the best, and the reason why I prefer Shadowrun to D&D in pen and paper.

  • logan400klogan400k Owings Mills, MDPosts: 68Member Uncommon

    Well I am going to write a long diatribe. :) So bear with me.

     

    There is a bit of a misconception I think that all pen and paper role playing games used level based systems 'back in the day' and so when we began converting those to computers, that was the most familiar way of doing it. In some ways it was easier, but by no means was D&D the only rpg out there. Some long time rpg players have never played it. D&D and others did indeed have levels as progression and they opened up new levels of power for the character. However, a game like Runequest was skills based. In that game you had to use skills and then every game week you made a roll to see if you improved that skill. Fun for the fan of the more granular game. There were other systems as well.

     

    A little more history. Most people focus on UO, EQ, and AC as early examples of MMORPGs and rightfully so. UO obviously has a skill point limit and a limit on the number of skills you could learn. EQ we know combined levels and a very limited skill progression. AC as been spoken about already. However, if we take a look at some other games we do find some variance.

     

    Earth & Beyond - My favorite and most missed MMO. E&B did have levels but it had three different progressions for each character. Combat XP, Trade XP, and Exploration XP. It was not a perfect system but it allowed you (to some extent) to fucs on the avenue of your character instead of being forced to one route. The game also had a lot of personality IMHO.

     

    SWG - Pre NGE etc... - SWG had professions, of which you could learn two at a time (I think there was a limit of two, correct me if I am wrong). You earned experience to move up the selected trees in that Profession, before finally Mastering it. Then you could move onto a Master Profession or whatever they called it, depending on the initial professions you learned. Some people (schocking) would only learn part of a profession for certain skills and ignore the others. I think this might be the progression system I have enjoyed the most because it did seem to combine skills based and leveling.

     

    These are just two examples. One thing I have found curious for some time is why are there levels of end-game raiding based games at all. The point is to do "end Game Content" I am guessing as some kind of reward for all of your hard slogging. However, I honestly do not see a point. Let these players make Max level characters and let progression be through gear earned from raiding. GW Original let folks make max level PVP characters. Its a great idea because no one remembers the low level dungeons, instances, and hard points anymore. No one talks about any portion of SWTOR (a game I like very much) the way they talked about the Orc Camp in East Commonlands or the dungoen in the West Commonlands with all the skeletons. No one talks about zones like they talked about running Kithicor by day if you were low level because at night is was so deadly. Leveling up in many ways has become meaningless and is no longer an end to itself.

     

    Ultimately you can make a good game with levels or with skill based systems. That really is nto the argument. It is about designing a game were content and progression are fun and meaningful versus a game whose goal is for us to become gods and duke it out version each other (PvP) or high end NPC gods (PVE rading etc...). I am not sure the two can coexist anymore. I would pay for a game were progressing, through story or through pure content was fun and meaningful and end game was not necessarily just about raiding. However, I suspect that a game like that would be difficult to keep funded as it would have to really capture the casual / story-content oriented crowd.

    Just My 2 Lunars

  • ExpiredLifeExpiredLife Montgomery, TXPosts: 20Member
    You left out one thing about skill based progression. A level shows a visual indicator for others to gauge your skill levels. I would much prefer a game to be skill based, with a leveling system. It serves as a visual reference as to what you're looking at in relativistic terms. Changing the skill points you gain from levels should have far more impact than the level itself.
  • BlackraynBlackrayn H-town, IAPosts: 142Member
    Originally posted by victorbjr
    Originally posted by Ozmodan

    Geez Victor where have you been?  There are several sandbox games that use both levels and skills.  Asheron's Call I believe was the first one.  Levels did not really mean much in AC1, they just indicated you had more skill points to spend.

    To the guy above, attempting to use EQ as an example here is ludicrous, EQ straight jacked you with highly restrictive classes and  a skill system and class system are two extremely different animals.

    And yes it works very well, I consider Asheron's call still to be one of the better MMO's out there if you can by the highly outdated graphics.

    Hi! Victor here. I have to apologize for the late reply. I think my failing in the article here is that I never played Asheron's Call... and its visibility on my internal radar on must-play games is low because I don't see it talked about often in my circles. In other words, I did not know how Asheron's Call worked, so my premise is slightly skewed based on my experiences. 

    That said, I do believe I will rectify the situation by playing the game and giving it some attention in the next Devil's Advocate, time permitting. I start a new fullt-time job next week, so my time for gameplay will be reduced severely. 

    Thank you though for the input! :D

     Asherons Call is all you really need to say about a very well thought out and working skill progression system!

     

    Set in a heroic-fantasy world[3] Asheron's Call allows players to create a character, or avatar. The player initially allocates a limited number of attribute points (such as 'Strength', 'Coordination', and 'Quickness') and selects skills (such as 'Unarmed Combat', 'War Magic' and 'Melee Defense') for the character, with those base skills starting at a level determined by the character's attributes. Unlike many other games of the genre characters are not locked into a specific class, and can even reallocate previously selected skills to acquire other skills later in the game.

     

    Gameplay involves earning experience points through a variety of activities, including engaging and defeating monsters in combat, fulfilling quests, and interacting with NPCs. Those earned experience points can then be invested to improve the character's abilities by spending it on attributes or skills. Additional skill points are awarded after the character reaches certain levels, and these skill points can then be used to acquire a new skill.

  • ZektoZekto San Diego, CAPosts: 8Member Uncommon

    Ever heard of Mabinogi?

    I consider that game to be the epitome of this :P

    image
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