Monday, May 19, 2008

Best RPG Leveling System?

In the video game industry, game companies often make 'copy cat' games that are essentially a previously built game but with a few improvements to game mechanics and graphics. In the case of RPGs the game is usually based in a different universe, but shares the same leveling system as other RPGs. As far as I can tell, there are 3 main leveling systems that have evolved over the last decade or so (kinda sad really):

XP Based:
This is the traditional RPG leveling system where you gain levels by earning XP through completing quests and/or killing bad guys. The amount of XP required to gain a level usually increases each time, forcing the player to take on harder quests and badies. Typically badies encountered earlier in the game provide less XP if revisited. With each level you usually gain a bonus to your character stats, health and mana. The majority of RPGs around today use this system.
  • The system rewards you for putting more time and effort into gaining XP. Experts can rush through levels and noobies can level at their own pace.
  • Can lead to 'grinding', if leveling requirements are excessive or unreasonable.

Time Based:
Unique to Eve online, this system levels your character's skills over a period of time. The player selects which skill to learn and then starts the count down. The higher level skills take longer than the lower level ones.
  • Great for casual gamers, as you can level your character without even being logged on.
  • No 'grinding' required.
  • Can take a seriously long time to get a lot of the higher level skills.
  • No fast track to leveling. Just have to let the clock do it's thing.

Action Based:
This is where performing an action levels a certain skill/attribute of the character. For example, successfully attacking an enemy with a sword increases your sword skills and abilities. This system was used in the popular Elder Scrolls (Morrowind) series.
  • The more you perform a particular action, the better you get at performing it.
  • Encourages players to explore a range of actions within the mechanics of the game.
  • Can lead to 'grinding' through repetitive use of the same action.

So which leveling system is the best? If an RPG was to use a combination of all three, I think it would go far. WoW uses a combination of the XP and Action based leveling systems, and it seems to work very well (more XP than Action). The downside however is that WoW suffers greatly from 'grinding' syndrome. If it were to somehow add elements of the Time based leveling system as well, it may reduce the 'grind' and appeal more to the causal gamer. Perhaps in the future, game designers will be able to combine the best of each leveling system into one awesome RPG. Or better yet, invent a new leveling system altogether.


Bonedead said...

My vote is for action based (aka Skill based) and for one simple reason: Ultima Online.

Garumoo said...

Are there no MMOGs that are skill based - where leveling is accomplished through achieving a difficult feat involving use of your skills and abilities? There are some skill based class quests in WoW (Priests and Hunters come to mind) but they are the exception.

Crimson Starfire said...

The Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind, Oblivion etc) all used the Action based leveling system. Unfortunately the series was never made into an MMO and was only ever single player. They were all great games, although they did have their flaws.

Garumoo said...

I'd like to see an alternative "leveling" mechanism, one which leverages the MMO aspect of the game: your character himself doesn't level up, but all his actions (and actions of other players) contribute to the success of his village/clan/kingdom .. and as your community becomes stronger then additional powers become available.

For example, your village has recently secured some achievement (which you might have had some small part in), and all members of that village now have a specific boon available. The boon might be a character buff (eg. a bonus on resistance to some kind of magic), or might be availability from vendors of more powerful gear (eg. steel swords, instead of bronze).

That buff or boon would be permanent .. unless a rival clan comes along and causes a reversal in fortune. Or you seriously betray that community and become an outcast.

The communities should be elect to join, not invite to join (like guilds), and there should be hundreds (not two factions or eight races as in WoW). It should also be possible to increase your reputation with these communities, with higher standings according greater access to boons or access to more powerful boons.

This means you could, if you so choose, decide to abandon a losing community and join a stronger community .. but you'd lose access to all your previous boons and you'd need to work hard to gain access to the boons of your new hearthland.

If you choose to go renegade, outcast from all civilisation, then you'd better have some mad pvp skillz because your character will be effectively at the starter level once again .. and not aligned to any communities.

Anonymous said...

Oops... a little late replying but there ARE other leveling systems. There are leveling systems based on WHO you fight or items you use. I suppose the "who you fight" often shares elements with XP-based, but it doesn't have to. In Dark Cloud, it is your weapon that levels, not you, and you use items to change the attributes. I would consider card games an RPG in which you "level-up" by defeating enemies to win/buy/find better cards.

The problem in most leveling systems seems to be "grinding" (or flat-out waiting -- yuck -- though new gets some credit). Leveling doesn't really seem to add much to me. It is only useful when it provides challenges or customization. I think it should be an OPTION. If you are experienced, you don't need it. Challenge yourself by NOT leveling. If you are having a hard time, level to make the game easier. The other thing that makes sense is to just have leveling remove options (though it simultaneously "adds" others).

Unknown said...

Bit late, but Dragonrealms by simutronics uses action/time system which works really well, it works away from grinding by putting a max pool for xp gained by action before it can be absorbed. Encourages more varied gameplay.