The Game's Afoot!

(or Character Progression for Dummies)

by Raya

Kill mob, mob kills me, run for my corpse, kill mob. Rinse and repeat
40 or 50 times. Ding! Every MMO I have played has had some variation on
this theme. The leveling grind can be a real pain in the…er…neck.
It also seems a necessary evil.

The main school of thought is that the leveling grind is necessary because
it is also the way you learn your class or profession. As you succeed
in mastering certain adventuring skills, you can move up, where you can
master more skills and abilities and move up, so you can master more skills.
But if you substitute, for instance, the desert in front of South Freeport,
for the oasis area in North Ro, for the desert wastes of South Ro, for
the plains and hills of East Karana, for the Aviak's village in South
Karana…well, you get the picture…then all you are changing is
the scenery (and, possibly, the number of times you die).

The boredom is undeniably there and once you have exhausted the scenery
and explored the unknown, there still remains the litany of "kill
mob, mob kills me, run for corpse, kill mob."

Several MMOs have attempted to alleviate the boredom, if not the grind,
by substituting other activities besides killing that will bring leveling
points, such as the quests in Dark Age of Camelot. Although Everquest
was named for its quests, I have to admit that I didn't really understand
the concept of questing until I played DaoC. Another game that has gone
into some depth with questing is Guild Wars, where the quests ARE the
game. However World of Warcraft seems to have gained the questing crown
with its colorful and appealing quests, their degree of achievability,
and the lively intelligence that accompanies the description of each quest.
The complaints, however, are numerous about these quests. Not enough meat,
some say. Too easy, say others (or, in the case of Guild Wars, too hard,
at least if only grouped with NPCs).

The solution that Everquest provided, right from the start, and that
all the MMOs that I know of (except perhaps Guild Wars) have followed
is grouping. Say what you will about having to get together with unkindred
souls, the group was the way to go to get the maximum points in the shortest
time. There were even additional experience points for a group bonus,
for heavens sakes! During a survey I did in 2004 regarding female gamers,
the outstanding reason people loved their first MMO (majority claimed
EQ) was that they made lasting friendships in the game.

Another solution that many MMOs offer is the ability to upgrade your
equipment-- better armor, better weapons, better magical devices. This
is a huge part of the inducement for many players. For some, it even becomes
an absolute necessity. When a player reaches a certain level, in order
to play in certain areas or zones, s/he MUST have top grade armor or risk
dying as soon as s/he zones in. No amount of grouping will prevent this.
Thus, as a player progresses, chasing after the brass ring of uber armor,
s/he imperceptibly levels as well. "I got the Golden Armor of the
Phoenix," she might say. "Unbelievable stats…oh, yeah,
and I dinged 54."

We see a number of similar and new and improved solutions coming up in
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Along with other ways of earning experience
points via different spheres, the emphasis will be on grouping, as it
was in EQ. The perceived difference is that, apart from the hotly-debated
"balance" of a group, there will be reasons why people group
together. People will be able to solo, but certain skills will benefit
a group in certain ways. It will take more skill to group in Vanguard,
and the more skilled each member is at his/her class, the more benefit
s/he will be to the group. Warriors will be able to unlock moves that
other fighters can use if they are playing together. Casters will learn
counter-spells that will neutralize the magic of opposing mobs. And the
rewards will be fun and plentiful in an item-centric environment.

Ultimately, enjoyment of a game boils down to preference and choice.
The one good thing that seems to have come from all this investigating
and revising of games to maximize their playability is that there IS a
wide variety of games to choose from. As the "third generation"
of MMORPGs starts rolling off the production lines and into the stores,
we will see bigger and better vistas, more integrated styles and techniques,
a super selection of customization of player characters--who can ever
forget the wonderful hours spent creating the perfect characters in Star
Wars: Galaxies? There was a game that had so many variables in character
that it was probably one of the most fun things about the game.

Unfortunately, the grinding for experience will probably always be around.
It is an integral part of the nature of the game. And I believe it shouldn't
be done away with. Otherwise, we will all end up no better off than the
well-heeled dude who bought his level 60 warrior on ebay and then is unhappy
because his expensive, high level character doesn't have the SoW ability.
After all, he IS a wood elf.

Playing your character in all kinds of situations is what helps you understand
your character and become a better player. What I do foresee is that the
gaining of experience will become a part of the process of playing the
game, rather than something you HAVE to do to level your beloved druid
or blood mage or warrior. A taste of this is seen at the lower levels
of WoW, where the color and imagination make the questing so much fun
that you don't notice until some time later that, during the past four
hours, you managed to level a couple of times…not to mention the
fun and valued rewards from completing a quest. Detractors say it's no
fun because it's too easy. But that's where choice comes in.

I look into my crystal ball and I see thousands of happy players, all
with their games of their choice, playing them the way they want to play.
Still grinding? Yes. Still boring? Absolutely not. After all, the game's
afoot, and we must away to play!

Tell us what you think


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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.

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