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The Leveling Game

Published by under Editorial on Aug. 14. 2011.

Inspired by SWTOR fans on Twitter I’ve started playing League of Legends, DOTA clone or what people now call a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game. It is a competitive PvP game where you completely rely on your teammates to win a match and it is a gathering of the worst type of gamers in the world – caps lock, nerd rage, griefing, intoxicated, noob calling type that plays these kind of games since Warcraft III. Why would I subject myself to something like that you might ask. The magic that makes me sit down every day and play a few games is the existence of levels in this game. Whenever you play a match, whether you win or lose, you get a small amount of XP which goes towards leveling your “account”. Higher the level, more things get unlocked for your characters to use. The carrot at the end of the stick is level 30 and who knows what wondrous things await me once I reach that fabled place called end game. Ranked matches? My personal army of hot babes? Cookies?
Whatever awaits at the end of the rainbow we are compelled to fill that XP bar. This is so noticeable that almost every game company out there is now making their games in such a way that unlocking something through some form of leveling is present in their games. We have shooters with levels and better guns, we have logic games setup that way. Facebook casual games are mini MMOs these days. Even Gandalf the Grey leveled up to Gandalf the White once he killed that Balrog in Moria. I predict with the next incarnation of Windows we’ll probably see a new version of Solitaire with leveling and RPG elements.
The thing is that once you reach end game you have in fact ended the game. In single player games this would be a sign to move on to the next game (until achievements were “discovered” and every game now asks you to play through multiple times in order to collect all them badges). In MMOs things are not that simple. Back in the day World of Warcraft provided several dungeons that had the best loot once you reach level 60. I can’t count the number of times I went to UBRS in order to get my Tier 1 gear. This changes the leveling game into gear game. Still, if you look at it from a different angle, getting better gear is actually a way of saying that you leveled up your gear. There is no XP bar, but it kind of boils down to the same principle.
The leveling game has been on my mind for a while now when it comes to The Old Republic. Bioware has put a lot of chips into the whole story aspect, and that story is best told while leveling your character. The process of leveling seems to be a long one as well, because those 200 hours of gameplay per class are surely embedded into the leveling portion of the game (most of it at least). We’ve also heard about social points and dark/light side points, PvP points and there are exploration and achievement collections as well. All of these can be “leveled” to some maximum. This all points to TOR relying heavily on this particular mechanic. So, will the leveling game be the thing that makes or breaks SWTOR?
Back when we went to visit Bioware in Austin, during the Fan Site Summit, I got an impression about the game that has stuck with me ever since. We were provided with decent gaming computers and endless supply of soft drinks (what I refer to as gamer’s heaven). I sat down and played the game for six hours straight. The experience was very so satisfactory that ever since I have been longing to repeat it. I dearly miss my Imperial Agent character (which is a class I never, ever planned on playing in the game) and I want to continue his adventure. This is exactly what made the game so dear to my heart. The fact that it was not just that I was leveling my character. I was having an adventure with my character. Leveling was there just to entice my hoarder gene, but the real gaming experience was adventuring.
The problem with adventures is that they all inevitably see their end at one point. You will reach level 50 at some point and you will finish your class story at one point. This is where we see how heavily Bioware is betting on the leveling up game. They have been saying for a while now that you can than play another class and have a completely new and different leveling experience (or should I say a completely new adventure?). I don’t know about you, but once I reached max level with my toon, I get connected to it and it feels hard to leave him sitting in some Cantina. Bioware has therefore decided to give us a whole planet to play on at level 50 – Ilum. This is not your traditional end game. This is not just a set of dungeons or raids. This is what you would find in the leveling up game – quests and story – but without levels being gained. We will probably get some Tier 1 gear through finishing Ilum storyline and hence level up our gear for Eternity Vault raid, or something along those lines.
The question that will get answered by TOR’s players and that will ultimately make or break this game is: Is the leveling game the thing that can keep you occupied even after you finish your first character’s leveling experience? I’d love to hear what you think about whether the leveling game will be dominant in TOR and will it be enough to carry the whole game for years, so please feel free to post your comments bellow.

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “The Leveling Game”

  1. Mithyon 15 Aug 2011 at 7:38 am

    Right now… I don’t really care if the leveling aspect will be enough for the game to stay popular for years and years like WoW, but I know, I’ll have a blast through the (lenghty) story mode and if there’s nothing more to do – it’s time to move on to another game.

  2. prenerfedon 15 Aug 2011 at 3:57 pm

    The leveling game in SW:TOR will be popular because every class story is different. People will want to see more of the over-arching story, and so they’ll roll another class for that, probably. But I think Bioware is implementing the Legacy system to make the need to re-roll a sure thing. The Legacy system is “supposed” to open up new races and/or other options for new characters that you create AFTER you finish leveling your first character. Of course details are thin at this point, but it’s been strongly hinted by Bioware that this is how the Legacy system will work.

    If the Legacy system works as above it will encourage or even require people to level up a second toon, depending on what becomes available for your second character creation once you “finish” the first one. Those min-maxers who want to have one “main” will likely feel compelled to re-roll a second toon once they open up some new, potentially more useful options for their next toon. If racial traits/abilities make it into the game before launch and the Legacy system opens up new races with different racial traits or abilities it is a sure thing that many people will be playing on their second character before they see most of the end-game content.

  3. iLLon 23 Aug 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Let me preface with I am not an ubber experience MMO player, who’s played a myriad of MMO’s out there, but I have played WOW, and played SWG off and on for several years and want to share a some opinions of what I liked from SWG (pre-cu).

    As mentioned in the article I also share the same compelling emotion to grind, and max out a character in the angsty hopes of “maxing out.” There are millions of hard core gamers who also feel this way, and will grind out xp in anyway possible to get that end game level of a character. What I personally liked about SWG (pre-CU) was while there was a lot of grinding to gain exp for a toon, the goal wasn’t to get to a certain level, it was to get to the desired profession or class. The class system was so open, that each player could freely develop a character to have A Rilfe Skill along with Creature Handling Skills… this wasn’t assigned a Level Requirement or Ranking, but a person personal build to use out in the game. While I understand and love the idea of the story line of developing your character, I still have difficulty in the idea of “finishing a story line” with a toon, and then starting a new one with another character.

    Reason being is I would want to pimp out the char I enjoy playing the most, I’d almost prefer using the same character and redoing skills and stories to adjust him if I wanted to test the character out with different skills and such. Not to start someone over from scratch, but, as able in SWG “forget” skills and redo the grinding. The though of re-doing missions or some missions with alternate endings also sounds somewhat interesting. Thereby sticking with the same Story development, but not forcing a full new toon to be redeveloped.

    Again just some thoughts on the leveling, not sure if anyone agrees or sees any merit in what I was saying…

  4. swtorcrafteron 24 Aug 2011 at 4:41 am

    @ iLL I see merit in what you are saying and I agree. I loved that about the way you advanced your characters in SWG-precu that was one of the reasons I liked it and other similar systems like UO.

    There is a lot of fun to be had in a design like that but unfortunately I feel that it is not as popular as the theme park style of MMO WoW has brought us today so the money isn’t there for developing those style of games like there is for the most popular style.

    unfortunately I say because I love those style of games and miss that type of gameplay.

    @prenerfed I agree with your views on the legacy system, that is one of my top three sections of gameplay i would like to know more about, would answer a lot of questions about how the game will feel.