Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Shayalyn
Do you recall when it took months or even years to gain the max levels in EverQuest if you were not part of a power guild that raided eight hours a night? Remember the real fear of losing experience because it meant you had to recover not only the experience but the time put in to achieve it? How many nights did you stay up much longer than planned because you only needed 5% more to level?
The powers that be at Sigil Games Online have stated more than once that they wish for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes to be a long lasting game. It is their goal to keep the players enthralled with the game for upwards of five years, if not longer. Is this a realistic goal for them? I find it almost in reach.
They have instituted strong policies regarding secondary market sales, camping and griefing. There isn't much more to wish for to make the game desirable. Sigil Games Online has thought of everything that a gamer could wish for in an MMO. However, I have this little voice whispering in the back of my head. It's full of doubts about one solitary issue – the experience factor. If the goal is for me to play this game for five or more years, how are they going to handle this issue?
This is where grinding comes in. The developers at Sigil Games Online have put in a leveling treadmill that ensures players will not reach the maximum level until a certain amount of time passes. This could be a month or even six months. Unfortunately, in the past, this type of approach has shown to be more of a hindrance rather than a help. Grinding levels does two things. It forces people to solo more often and it rewards power-levelers and power gamers in a manner that is unbalanced.
In previous games where a system like this was in place, if you weren't able to play as much as your guild or your group of friends, they would ultimately level faster. This meant that you spent most of your time playing catch up. In most cases, this wasn't spent grouping with said friends because they didn’t want to back track to places that would no longer provide them with the experience they needed or wanted. You would be stuck finding a spot that held lots of mid range monsters and grinding through the levels. It wasn't prudent to group. Grouping meant sharing mediocre experience. It was faster to kill a mid range monster every five minutes and gain 500 experience points rather than kill an equal or more dangerous monster with a group every five minutes and only gain 250 experience points.
Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft, thought that they had fixed this problem by implementing a vitality system. This system rewards you with an experience bonus per character after a set amount of time offline or at rest in an inn with that character. The amount of this bonus is dependant on the length of time offline or in an inn. Therefore, when you came back you would gain a bonus to each kill you made. It would help you to play catch up if you were unable to spend as much time on as the friends. In theory this was a great idea! However, in practice it ended up causing players to bounce around their characters while the ones not being played gained that bonus. Sigil Games Online has already stated that they do not plan to implement a vitality bonus.
I am looking forward, with some skepticism, to seeing the Fellowship system that was unveiled at Fanguard Beta in action. In essence, if you opt into a fellowship, you will be rewarded a portion of the experience that your fellows gain while you are offline. This seems to have the downside of not giving as much experience to those online at the time. This will show us how strong friendships are and just exactly how many people are willing to lose experience for the sake of their offline friends. Only time will tell if this system is a realistic one.
My second point was about rewarding the power gamers. At present I can dedicate about 40 hours a week to playing a game. In my opinion, this is a considerable amount of time. Not everyone, or even a fraction of players, can commit that amount of time to a game. Do I consider myself a power-gamer? No I don't. When I'm asked if I am, I generally burst into a fit of side splitting laughter. I spend most of my time exploring, crafting and, dabbling with different characters. In other words, I dick around a lot. I do not have the focused attention to take one character and play her non-stop to the max level. At the same time, I don't have the patience to solo. I want to be in a group of friends, taking down mobs and doing strategic raids.
Now, I am not your typical power gamer, obviously. People who can spend the amount of time I can playing a game can effectively ruin the game for people who cannot. I know that this is a bold statement. I say it because in many cases it's absolutely true. They, the nasty brand of power gamer, camp spawns that should be left for lower level groups and they also have a tendency to manipulate the economy. Dominating spawns with much needed armor or weapons and camping them until the item becomes ultra expensive is one of the main tactics. People would rather buy them on the secondary market rather than bother with trying to oust that group of people from the spawn. Sigil Games Online has created a new system to replace the traditional camping. However, that doesn't mean that there isn't a way to exploit it.
A treadmill system also makes it more desirable for power leveling. Grinding doesn't promote exploration. If I can get my friend who is level 50 with the best equipment in the game to help me gain 5 to 10 levels in an hour or so, I'm going to do it! I'm not the only one who would either. As much as I'd like to take the high road and say, "Hey I don't power level. I love this game." That is just not true. I want to see the exciting content. I want to explore the game and you cannot do that unless they either, create dungeons and raid content for all levels or I do whatever it takes to reach a level that I can participate. What do you think is the most common scenario here?
I think that Sigil has responded to this problem with a good solution. They have indeed, created content that is exciting and worthwhile for all levels. I say make a dungeon that needs a fifteen man raid group to complete for level 5. It not only teaches the newer people good tactical skills, but it also teaches them how to play their character. What is the use of me going on a level 45 raid when I've never raided before? Who's to say what tactics I'm going to need? Chances are my guild has done everything that they could to get me up to that level so we COULD go on that raid. Chances are, I'm not going to know how to play my character. "Sigil has done this!" You say. Yes, I know. I am grateful that they had the foresight.
There hasn't been a good MMO released that has made us grind through levels without realizing it. If I don't feel like I'm grinding, then I don't have any reason to complain. It's going to make me want to play the game longer. It's going to make me want to pay my $14.95 every month with a smile rather than an "It's the only thing to play right now" mentality.
Sigil has done an outstanding job so far with all of the information that they've released. I wanted the adrenaline back in my game. I wanted the secondary market to be non-existent so I didn't have to deal with bots. I wanted to be able to enjoy the game with my friends and explore new places (and be scared to death while doing it). I wanted an advanced crafting system that allowed me to really play a part in the persistence of the world. Vanguard provides all of this for me.
The genius of the team is shining through as I read all of the new information released on the game. So what's my beef? I want them to realize that this is indeed a third generation game. Grinding doesn't need to be the living hell that it has been for the last six years. We can make these games entertaining and long lasting with new tactics. With any luck, my fears will be baseless and everyone will find this new game as exciting and fresh as we all hope for. For now, we can only keep our fingers crossed and our eyes open.