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Leveling without levels

February 6, 2008

A majority of the MMOROGs today are based on some kind of leveling system – character, enemies, equipment etc are in many cases tied to a leveling system. Sometimes it is combined with a skill-based model. A few game have an entirely skill-based model.

With the level-based systems comes a number of issues, at least for some; segmented areas which are only playable for certain level ranges, difficulties for people with big level differences to play together, mudflation issues when max levels are raised, too much focus on item managment due constant level updates.

Still the leveling system is attractive because it helps people marking advancement and setting up mini-goals – and of course to allow them to go ding 😉

So what if we kept the level advancement for the characters, but got rid of it for enemies and perhaps equipment? Or rather, gor rid of the absolute level values. Instead enemies would have relative levels – same level as you, +2 levels, -3 levels. Results would be scaled individually per character. This would have a few neat consequences:

  • Anyone could team up with anyone, regardless of their actual level
  • All content and areas would be playable by anyone at any time pretty much. New content updates would not have to care about which level ranges to support, it would be usable to anyone
  • The games becomes more resiliant to aging; there will not be any lowbie zones that will be empty because almost everyone is at a higher level

Of course, enemies that might be difficult for a level 4 player would likely be easy for a level 40 player. At 40 there would supposedly be more abilities and other features available. But this could be adjusted by allowing players to have an individual difficulty setting. An enemy that might be +1 level for a level 4 player with a default difficulty setting could become a +3 level for a level 40 player with a higher difficulty setting. Higher setting provides for better XP, better rewards etc.

The rate of advancement could be made an individual business and a player could set it at one setting for solo and a diffierent for team play.

I think this approach could provide more opportunity for interesting story development and perhaps more challenges as well. Any linearity that could partially be enforced through a level-based model would not really be applicable. At the same time it also gives more freedom in creating stories. There should be better opportunity to make world changing events – if a certain area is changed significantly in some way it does not destroy the game for a certain level range.

Of course, the feeling to getting through a zone alive with really high level enemies roaming around will not really be there, unless one increases the difficulty setting on purpose. Perhaps other similar issues also. But I would really like to see some take an approach like this which I think could be a boost to the MM part of an MMORPG.

There are existing games that have implemented parts of it, but I would like to see a more complete exploration of this concept. Perhaps some day…

Categories: MMO Games
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