GameSpot Reports: Leveless MMOs
Jessica McDonell investigates the growing trend of leveless MMOs like The Secret World, EVE Online and Age of Wushu, and speaks to the devs behind them to find out why this is a good gameplay model.
by Edmond Tran on
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These genres are so varied. All I can think of is how much I got back into space MMORPGS, via Star Trek Online, after the Earth & Beyond servers went down. I'm not big on PvP in MMORPG games, I get enough of that in real life.
I played WoW for 60 levels and was utterly done with that entire style of game and the people I met in-game turned me off to MMO's for some time. Then I got into Eve Online and there was just no comparison.
In WoW you weren't an individual, just another build of a troll/hunter or whatever. In Eve, you are defined entirely by your actions. Your actions drive your skill build. CCP simply created a world and players arguably have more power over our (single shard, BTW) world than the game devs themselves.
Eve lets the individual behind the avatar come thru in a way no other game I've seen does. No where else have I seen single players become 'famous' or impact the game in truly meaningful ways.
That's the critical difference. The Secret World looks to me like a skin on WoW without the carrot on the stick of that new level being just one more quest away. Without that true sandbox world it's just WoW all over again.
I really like the idea of Age of Wushu, to be honest i'm getting tired to see just another game with the same principe, which gives you no reason to play it since there are so many others.
Yea Eve may not have levels, but has a really old school and brutal "keep em subscribed" skill training system. 30 days to get 5% improvement on a skill rivals any Korean grider. Granted you dont have to be logged in and let the time pass, but it still blocks your development for a damn long time. Btw, mining and manufacturing are rather niche in the game, there is a heck of a lot more to do there.
Kristoffer Touborg said it best that 9/10 MMOs today are worthless, we need more games like eve, secret world, ashrons call, ect....
I'm all for new ideas in MMOs but I'm sick of games claiming to have no leveling system only to find out they do but in another form (f.e skill leveling) That is not innovation.
That said I do love leveling up and I love distributing stat points (something WoW won't allow). And I don't understand why everyone is trying to get away from that particular element of gameplay.
There are more important things to change. And you'll need SOME way to progress your character.
Isn't this just a case of MMO versus MMORPG anyway?
RPGs have statpoints. The End! (don't bother giving me examples of RPGs without it).
DISCLAIMER: WoW is the only MMO I have ever played to any substantial extent, so that is the grounds on which I argue. Please feel free to enlighten me (as some of your posts already have), if there is something I'm oblivious to.
Anyway, I really agree with the final point of joeldvss90! The thing that's been putting me off from MMOs the most (apart from the horrendous amount of time they suck up) is the fact that - in order to make content available for everyone in succession - most things revert or respawn back to their original state. I kill a bad guy, but half an hour later he is back to be killed by someone else - or, even worse - by me again.
The problem, in my opinion, with the priority of the leveling and gearing system of e.g. WoW is that it all comes down to my character getting stronger. Nothing else REALLY matters. Skill is only truly an issue between players (or players and NPCs) that are already rougly equal in strength, and actions and quests in the game world are mostly just a way to increase that strength. Admittedly, it is possible to enjoy the story behind it, but the illusion seems to shatter once you move on from there but the rest of the world doesn't.
TERA is an example of a game that has done something to increase the importance of skill, thus widening the margin of competition, by making you able to dodge an attack only so long as you have anticipated it, or to land a critical strike only if you get your aim and timing right. Better weapons and armor offer more damage and protection (which makes perfect sense), and higher levels offer more health and more spectactular moves, but a well-honed dragonbone sword is no use against a guy armed with steel daggers if the person (and player) wielding it cannot hit him.
From what I have read here, it also seems to me that a game like EVE offers sufficiently deep interaction for players to "generate" content for each other, through e.g. conflict with other groups of players, but in order for something like this to be truly effective, it would have to be balanced extremely well. Take the conflict between the Horde and Alliance, for instance. Most servers have an overweight of one or the other, and if it was possible to actually affect the status vis-a-vis the opposing faction, I think it would very quickly turn out to one side or the other, with very little opportunity for the outnumbered opposition to retake the lost ground, and very limited elbow room for leveling for whatever new players are spawning in this "underdog" gameworld. Taking WoW as an example is a little unfair, since its game mechanics were never meant for an imbalanced playing field; to have a world as dynamic as that would require equally dynamic mechanics - such as, for instance - a larger dependence on player skill allowing a small group of skilled people to take on a larger and (possibly) more well-equipped force of opponents.
What would be cool to see, but probably too hard to do for a number of reasons, would be a developer implementing some of the features that characterised Multi-User Dungeons back in the 90s, where people could literally generate new content for each other.
It was all text based, and all you had to do was describe locations and objects and determine the rules governing them (e.g., what would happen if you tried picking something up or pushing a button), so a complete transfer to graphic games would limit participation to players with skills in animation, voice acting, etc. But imagine the developer putting in place a framework that would allow people to e.g. create an NPC character for a custom quest or put out a bounty on another player.
This would make the game much more immediately dynamic, rather than having to wait for patches or expansions to introduce new content, but the ultimate problem would probably be 1) the quantity-to-quality ratio of submitted content, and 2) the feeling that you're paying people to make their game for them. MUDs were free and much more exclusive (and thus more manageable) than today's MMOs, but one is allowed to dream ;)
It's not really about levels (take swtor as a game that has levels, but you hardly notice them, because of the story and atmosphere). People don't have a problem with levels or classes. We do have a problem with grind and repetition (gw2's cleverly disguised quests should be interesting).Imo the 2 keys to success for an mmo are immersive atmosphere (swtor & eve) and appealing variety of things to do (wow).What I hope from a next gen mmo: - more story & atmosphere - less grind (or make grind more fun/challenging) - more mini games (waste 15 min type activities - like sunflower pet quest in wow) - non-linear progression (very important incentive to make alt characters) - clearly defined goals (a problem that happens if a game is too open, then people don't know what to do. Wow's achievement list is a very nice solution).
Wow, my previous post was just childish. Having only played GW1 for any significant amount of time, I completely missed the psychological significance levels have on many MMO players. Anyone coming primarily from level-less MMO like me should really watch Sword Art Online to get a feel for the issue before diving into the discussion. Despite the mechanic's dating back to the earliest days of RPG, or perhaps because of it, there is something so addictive, and not just out of vanity, about the level advantage that I think some MMO players simply won't give it up no matter what new design comes out in the future.
The core issue is perhaps not about leveling but the games themselves. MMORPG today are too easy and too short. Weeks, at most a few months, after launch, you get a sizable player population who clamors for end game content. The interaction between players of different levels as they work together to tackle a game world whose pinnacle feels distant even for the best of players, an atmosphere that defined early MMORPG and even the early days of WoW, that culture has faded. Levels now just feel artificial. Yeah, that raid group of all level 85's just killed a tough boss, but they've done it a dozen times before. There is no new challenge but maybe some of them still need to get a rare loot or two. Level-less does sound better for MMO such as these, or at least MMO that has reached this stage.
Maybe another solution lies in the past, not the future. Make a MMO truly epic and challenging that it will take more than a year for the best players in the world to reach its conclusion. Then perhaps level will return to its original and better function as both a gradient to differentiate player capability (which includes amount of time played and farming efficiency) and as the catalyst that permits the wholesome interaction between different levels, instead of the role it primarily serves today: a diploma that minimally qualifies a player for end game. End game, which ironically has become the time games begin for many players...
I agree with Bhemont that there needs to be some sort of change in gameplay. if I'm just sitting at my computer, waiting the 1-0 keys, then I feel like I'm gonna lose interest relatively quickly. If it does become more action based, I do feel like players will stay in for longer but beyond that, it opens up a new opportunity. In structure like that, i feel like it levels the playing field a little bit and makes it more skill based. Not only do you have to build your skills but you also have to learn the game. What if a new player could come in and beat a player who has played for 100+ hours. The better PLAYER wins. Now you can unlock skills and abilities to help along(a la Mass Effect multiplayer) and maybe you could give the player whos played longer a natural handicap(a la Skyrims leveling system).
Most of all is that I want to feel like I have an effect. I feel like the reason EVE Online is as successful as it is, is that players can change things. A group of players successfully ran an economic blockade. In WOW, the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance will never end. But what if factions were changing sides and regions were changing hands. What if players could affect that change. Think Warhammer but more open. Or Star Wars Galaxies political system. Except it actually mattered.
i want a game where I matter.
New types of MMOs? Definitely, I'm sick of WoW, I'm sick of its unsuccessful clones and I'm sick and tired of falling for them each and every time. SWTOR was my last appeal. I'm done with the genre unless it gets more innovative. I don't know about Secret World, but it sure as hell seems very similar to WoW. Only Eve Online is the game that stands out so far. For ones I'd like a battle system that is similar to action adventure games with mixed gameplay and a story that matters. I want a game that makes sense, that actually feels like a game, and not like a 2nd work. A game that you can replace single player games with. SWTOR came close, but not nearly close enough, that repetitive battle system, and those boring quests quickly became very tiring.
Any developer reading this, learn from all the past mistakes. Make an action game with MMO elements. Big vast worlds, epic quests (variety of different quests like in WoW, ie controlling vehicles, turrets etc, something fun) good pvp (will come automadically if the battle system is done right this time) and lastly good graphics (not that cartoony crap, or graphics that are made for 10 year old systems).
The WoW battle system has already been done to death. It'soutdated and boring. Developing that, is like Square Enix would make Final Fantasy Online games turn based similar to the way Final Fantasy VI was. Come one, games develop, there's a reason why they changed it.
Learn something from these MMO's. Make something innovative, something new, something that will draw a lot of appeal, if done right. Otherwise my faith in MMO games is gone.
GG BioWare :)
So in secret world there aren't levels, but you gain enough non-XP and rather than "level up", you "advance" your character. LOL, isn't that the same thing? It's like saying, "we've gotten rid of the skill tree! We're shaking things up and replacing it with the 'new abilities/powers' tree!" Different toilet, same shit.
I don't care whether or not a RPG hides what level I am from me as long as it lets me advance my character's skills and stats.
Wait... wasn't this exact same video put up just a few weeks ago? I know for damn sure I've seen this video already, not too long ago. Why is Gamespot airing something we've already seen?
As much as I'm a fan of skill based RPGs usually in MMOs level and class really is the way to go.
Skill based progression really isn't new. Of the big three mentioned, Asheron's Call, Everquest, and Ultima Online only Everquest is level and class based. In fact both of the other two featured open PvP. in a similar vein to EVE Most MMOs are the descendants of Everquest it's because Everquest's formula worked the best.
For me the biggest problem with the Secret World's combat is locking you to five active abilities. First of all it's dull to play. SWTOR get criticised for being too stream lined but on my simplest to play level 50 my standard rotation in combat has me using 10 abilities and in any given fight conditionally there are another 16 abilities I may need. Managing five buttons is miserably dull. The real choice is meant to come from picking your build but the impression I got from beta is that it wouldn't be as open a choice as it initially appears. The game is still built around tank, healer melee damage, range damage roles and in any given role there will probably be one best build. Even if there isn't a clear single best build in each role a theory crafted build that has come from a wider community will be significantly better than what any player comes up with on their own and you will better off lifting and cookie cuttering than coming up with your own. Even if a game doesn't explicitly have class and levels it needs something to denote role and progression and that will cut backwards meaning rather than a free choice there is limited choice of optimal builds if you don't want to harm yourself.
EVE is kind of the exception that proves the rule because it's such a different MMO to other big ones. It works because it's much more player driven than it is content driven. EVE has it's niche and people who play EVE love it but it really isn't for everyone. In fact it isn't for most people. World of Warcraft and SWTOR are made for most people and they are both great games.
With MMOs, how good your character is usually depends on the length of time you've spent playing it. Whether this is reflected by how much money you have, what level you are, how good your gear is or what skills you have, every MMO has a plateau that plays strive to get to. This is the draw in an MMO. What determines the success of it is a combination of the social interaction you have with others, the gameplay as you try to reach this plateau (whether it's too easy, too grindy etc.) and then things like content updates.
Get all these right and you'll have a successful MMO. Well... marginally successful. WoW is still too much of a juggernaut at the moment and with MoP coming out it'd be a bad idea to release a new MMO right now. Wait till MoP has been out long enough for the players to go back and get sick of it and then release a new MMO and you'll be golden.
I'm looking forward to TES online, but I'm a bit skeptical about how they'll do it... If that fails I always have Everquest: Next to fall back on... I started out with Everquest and I'm still a sucker for it ;) Everyone always remembers their first!
In response to some of the comments, MMOs need to have a class system as it helps identify your character, and also gives a lot of people replayability to the game. I had a main character in EQ that when I died or got frustrated with, I'd log on a different class and play in a different way. The rigidity of the classes is the problem, you get DPS, Tank and Healer... that's about it. What they need to do is try and break the mold for the various ways you tackle enemies in MMOs. Back in EQ you had various tactics, you could kite, you could tank, you could pet tank, you could fear kite. So basically you had groups where no tank was needed. It would be nice if they ever returned to having it like that, it made the game more fun and you could see some truly skillful players doing things you'd never thought of.
Leveless MMO do not exist, take on EVE and WoW for example (using them as i have experienced both), on WoW you level you character to 85 and also have your professions to level up until you reach their max.
In EVE, while your character does not level up you still have to spend time managing your skill queue and guess what, skills have levels from 1 to 5, and to master a specific role you must master a broad set of skills.
What i do like about EVE is that you don't have to start a new character from scratch if you want to play another role (i.e.: on WoW you must start a new character and gather all your gear again if you are bored of your pally and wanna play a mage).
On EVE you can add a different set of skills to your already existing character and can easily become a multirole fighter, provided you have enough money to buy and fit your ship, you can switch from logi, to DPS, to tank, bomber, ECM, etc without much hassle spending a couple of weeks of training, which you can do in WoW (level from 1 to 85), but you later have to grind instances and raids to get gear and money for your new character.
That being said, there's no advantage of leveless over level-enabled MMOs, they are just different takes on game machanics, every MMO has its charm and each one chooses what he likes to continue playing. If anyone chooses a "leveless" MMO over a leveled one only because of that, is clearly failing to understand what an MMO game is all about.
The social interaction part is for me the greatest magnet of any online game imo, playing with your friends can keep you hooked up to any game you might feel bored of if playing alone.
this is stupid. the only thing that keeps players still playing mmo isnt story or levels. its the communication with other players (pvp, pve, etc.). there cant be an mmo that has a story as interesting as a single player rpg, especialy based on a book (yes im talking about witcher). also players would get really bored in unlocking new skills without level. all im concerned about skills in game is that they look awesome or if a game doesnt have a good pvp/pve, WHY ELSE WOULD I PLAY IT? if developers want to create a new genre of MMO's that would surpass WoW, they need to answer that question.
i havent played any leveless MMO, but I do remember a cool little rpg game from old, legend of zelda a link to the past, the game had no levels of progression, but tools and weapons and better version of those weapons -and a little imagination- would prepare the character to face increasingly hard challenges, and all that was ok.
it would be ok if more games implemented a leveless system, maybe that way the whole hate that usually comes with elitism would go down a couple of notchs.
I don't play mmo's, although I do play a lot of rpgs, but the main thing that puts me off playing them isn't the level system, all games need some form of progression, its the class system. I hate how it restricts you to one one way of playing the game and then you need to start over if you want to use a different fighting/playing style.
Joel Bylos - funcom lead designer is full of shit. Those two sentences: 'you should not play the game to get to the top level', and '...theres a target goal, and once they get to 525 skill they'll quit the game because theres nothing else to do; thats not the game' is clearly implying to one specific game - World of Warcraft. And the FACT is, that WoW has been and still is more succesful than most other games, especialy those in mmo ganre. To hear a lead designer to say WoW is 'not a game' is just lame.
What it seems like to me, never having played a "leveless" MMO, is that all that goes along with having levels seems to be there, just not given a hard number like usual. That guy who was talking about Age of Wushu basically described how normal MMOs work when he was talking about his "leveless" one. You gain experience by doing raids and instances and you spend that experience on skills. This doesn't sound different at all.
Honestly, there's no way to say that MMOs like WoW will "always be populair." Just because WoW is getting another update which'll probably sell well doesn't mean it'll always be around.
I wouldn't say Guild Wars 2 has a "typical" level system. In fact, it's anything but "typical"; same with the original Guild Wars. Also, the video makes it sound as though there were only one or two MMOs before Wow - there were plenty, with and without various forms of innovation. Levelless ones? I'm not convinced such a thing really exists - whether you call it a "level" or not, all MMOs have elements to get you interested and keep you there.
@orbit991 A FREE expansion every 6 months is not to be neglected. And in eve you can be useful in a fleet from day one! Try getting in a PvP party in wow on LvL1.
That extra 5% DpS in Eve is the equivalent of the Raid grinding in WoW, except you don't have to do it - just wait it out, while you do other stuff. And, yeah - one more thing that sucked for me in WoW - After you gind raids for weeks until you get that epic loot, its just a matter of time until the next expansion, where the next best magic item is better - I call that a rip off!
There are many more reasons why I now give money to CCP and not Bliz anymore.
@xxxLesy GW2 does sound like it's going to do different things - I really hope it isn't just talk!
@joeldvss90 Isn't it why people love Dark Souls?
@Omni_Paradox Over simplification - apologies =]
@Omni_Paradox I had the same reaction - she totally missed the the focus of EVE. It's all about playing with or against the other players in dominating the market, conquering space, or one of dozens of paths you can make up. PvE content is fairly basic and provides resources to start the industrial chain, but the game is all about interacting in the sandbox world with other players.
@Bhemont The secret world is not like wow and its a great mmo
@Senor_Kami Yeah, they all kinda do that... which is why I brought it up as a replacement for levels rather than a shift in focus. Sneaky.
@Greyfeld Sorry dude, this is a part of Crosshairs, the larger AU show. We piece out the segments for those who only want to watch parts =]
@Greyfeld Yep, Jody's right. We've broken off this segment from an older episode of our Crosshairs show so people can check it out without wading through the dated news stuff.
@Greyfeld Do you have the url of the other video? Or, maybe you saw this on a Crosshairs episode? We tend to split off special features to allow people to see the content instead of having to watch an entire show.
@awfitzwater I realy dont understand the dull and fun:P and TSW is far from been dull and its very fun game
@awfitzwater The game is dull but fun... isn't that an oxymoron? That's like being excitingly boring.
@jonasas2 Well said! It's all about the community. I don't know why MMO devs seem to completely side step that these days. Bring the people together and not just in a way that forces grouping and min maxing like a boss. GW2 and such are doing well with public quests, but we need more!! A reason to talk to each other. Also communication in game needs to be revamped, EQ2 has added face emote with camera recognition, we need more of that!!
@Tazzman1000 I see your point, whoever a class system is what adds to replay value in a rpg.
There is no fun in playing with a mage/warrior/cleric/rogue/whatever in just one character.
@Morrywinn You know? There are some thing called sequels and Everquest has proven that it's the right and successful way into this genre
@Slagar I just dont get it how nobody notices how much GW changed from the formula, its definitely not typical, and it was never about levels, the levels only served as a tutorial to get you started, but you hit the level cap in just a few days and then it becomes something so much more
@Booshon My apologies then, I only judged it from what I saw in the gameplay vids. Although, I can't say the combat system looks appealing. But I think the puzzle system is definitely a nice touch. I think the same company that made The Longest Journey series, to add something like that is impressive, and it sounds enjoyable. Again, the battle system imo is not for me. :)
@Eraldus true, I just get bored of one class very easily and hate having to start again from the beginging XD Thats why I liked kyrim a lot more than oblivion because I could train up any skill I wanted at anytime. But I guess that only works in single player RGP's
@Darnasian Yeah, until another everquest comes around and changes the genre. That is, if the genre doesn't die out altogether at some point, cause you know? That happens. I only said that there is no way to know if the leveling system will stick around forever. In fact, it is more likely that it WILL change at some point than that it will remain forever. Just look at games as a whole; within as little as 40 years, games have changed so much and so often it's ridiculous; game design is always in flux.
@Doomguard3 I agree, GW is definitely something different. It just didn't fall into the very specific 'leveless' definition I was getting at. But I'm 100% with you, I'm doing a video on it now - fascinating =]
@Bhemont The Longest Journey is my favourite game ever. I too was hoping for something a little more different in The Secret World. To me it sounds better than it looks, can't say for sure though!