Alternate Advancement: The Savior of the MMO End-Game

Gear progression may be the end-game norm today, but it doesn’t need to be.

I have a confession to make. It may come as a surprise for some and a shock for others. Either way, be sure you’re sitting down for this one. Here it goes. I hate gear progression end-game solutions… with a passion. Rather than thinking millions of players disagree with me on the basis they love gear progression (in view of all those World of Warcraft players), I think they may just not be aware of the alternatives. 

Before WoW released, the top MMO of all time was EverQuest with a stated peak of 500,000 players. World of Warcraft then came along and shattered that record, bringing millions of new MMO players into the fold. As a result, many player’s first experience with any type of end-game was WoW’s version – gear progression dungeon raids. Just like virtually everyone else in the States, I had multiple friends that had zero interest in EverQuest, Ultima Online, or Dark Ages of Camelot, become completely obsessed with World of Warcraft and its raiding system. 

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, a gear progression dungeon raid system can be explained pretty easily. Players reach the max level of the game and then proceed to gather raid groups to enter dungeons that have difficult boss battles and very limited loot drops. These dungeons are split into various tiers, with players needing to get a significant portion of each tier’s armor sets before being able to progress to the next tier. This is accomplished by beating the various bosses within a specific dungeon and running that same dungeon over and over until they eventually get the weapon and armor upgrades they need.


As I said, I’ve got plenty of friends that went nuts over the game and raided regularly each week, often multiple nights during that week. Eventually (and by that, I mean it normally took a month or three) they were able to finally move up to the next dungeon tier and start the whole process over again. I congratulate them on their tenacity and perseverance. Personally, I can’t stand playing content more than a few times. Doing the same dungeon 20, 40, 50 times and praying that not only does the piece you need drop, but that you’re the one that actually ends up with it… I can’t do it. 

In every game that has a gear progression system (or PvP for that matter) as their end-game, I follow the exact same pattern. I hit the level cap and either quit right then or I may start an alt and horse around for a while before quitting. Despite what many players think though, this gear progression thing doesn’t need to be the way of the land. 

Whether it was because they thought it would be something cool or realized early on that players were able to go through content far faster than they could produce it, the developers of EverQuest eventually introduced a new concept called the Alternate Advancement system. Players may not have been happy with gaining access to the moon of Norrath with the Shadows of Luclin expansion, but they were thrilled with the AA system when it was up and running. As characters over level 51 progressed, they could earn AA points. The player was in control over how much of their regular experience went towards this new XP pool. They were then able to spend those points on a staggering variety of added abilities and character upgrades.


This allowed those players under the level cap to expand the abilities and uniqueness of their characters as much or as little as they wanted. Once players reached the level cap, they’d shift 100% of their XP towards earning AA points. This meant that players could still run the exorbitant amount of content that was scattered all over Luclin and Norrath without feeling as though it was for nothing. Rather than pigeonholing players into playing non-dungeon content for nothing, it allowed players to continue to play as they had been. 

One of my biggest complaints about gear progression end-game systems is that at their root, they’re changing the rules of the game. Once a player reaches the level cap, they no longer progress at all without running raid dungeon content. For some, this may not be an issue. For me, it’s a huge one. Don’t let me play a game for 50 levels the way I want (wandering around the land, doing some quests, grinding out some mobs when the mood hits me, hitting the occasional 5-man dungeon) and then when I reach the level cap tell me there’s no point in doing that anymore. 

Don’t get me wrong… for those that want to do nothing but raid the same dungeons over and over as you eventually eke your way into the next one, go for it. I understand the thrill players get from large scale fights that require an extreme amount of skill, coordination, and teamwork. I’m not seeking to take any of that away from players either. What I do want to see happen though is for more companies to add some form of an alternate advancement system so players like myself aren’t forced to suddenly quit playing or conform to the new rules at level cap. 

What do you think? Am I just a cranky old bastard that refuses to let go of the past or is there room for both systems to breath in games today? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter!

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