The levelling rift.

I’ve had the last three days off of work, and astute readers may notice that this neatly coincided with the beginning of the head-start event for Rift. However, I did in fact go away on holiday with my family.

‘Head-start: you are performing it quite incorrectly’, as I believe those cool Internet kids would say. Overlaid on a picture of a cat or a cheeseburger or something, whatever is required to make the lol-manipulation rules Meme complete[1].

What I’ve noticed upon my return is that the people I had hoped to play alongside are now fast approaching level twenty five – half way to the level cap. I’ve no intention of racing to catch up, so I find myself looking at the prospect of a solo adventure in Rift, taking as much pick-up group action as I can stomach along the way. There really is something to be said for the static group that plays once or twice a week: a harsh regimen to follow when undertaking it in an MMO for which a monthly subscription is required, but a great way to reduce burnout and to make sure that you always have friends to play alongside.

My concern is that there is one other faction for people to play and, should they wish to keep things fresh, a choice of the three remaining classes that they haven’t already played to the level cap, with no alternative levelling path within their current faction of choice. Does Trion have enough going on at the end-game to keep players invested (in several senses of the word) in their game? I have no idea, talk of content aimed at retaining players has been sparse.

And have MMO developers given up on the idea that a levelling curve can have a logarithmic shape, such that the early levels are gained quickly but the later levels come ever more slowly? For example, I remember World of Warcraft’s initial run from one to sixty, and although I was less experienced at blitzing through MMO content than I am now, my colleagues and I had tremendous fun playing the same characters nearly every night for many months before we even began to approach the level cap. Are developers now fearful of making players work for their levels, unsure of their content and whether the players of today have the conviction to stick with a game when levels aren’t handed out on an hourly basis? Again, I remember playing for a week in City of Heroes and not gaining enough XP for a level, yet I was still having tremendous fun. I wonder what it was about WoW, CoH, LotRO and others that kept a healthy number of players playing without the need for a constant stream of levels. Of course even WoW now hands out levels as though they were going out of fashion, and LotRO’s levelling curve has been smoothed and rounded until it represents more of a gentle slope.

It appears to me that the Skinner box has moved: where previously the player would pull the lever and get a reward of XP – and that reward (in combination with loot) was enough to keep them coming back and pulling the lever again and again – now players aren’t satisfied unless they pull the lever and gain a whole level. It concerns me that levels seem to have become the de facto reward over experience points, and I feel that this has dramatically reduced the amount of room that developers have to manoeuvre when it comes to keeping players happy on the levelling treadmill for any serious length of time.

[1] In Internet theory, a collection of lol-manipulation rules (a funny message spelt incorrectly, picture, or combination of both) is said to be Meme complete if and only if such a system can simulate any single-celled organism mashing a keyboard with its proto-fists.

13 thoughts on “The levelling rift.

  1. welshtroll

    I can understand the “head-start” concept, but I think that 7 days is a little over the top. Perhaps if you complete it before the game starts properly you can trade it in at your local GAME store for 95% of the cost :P

    I can say I’ve enjoyed my solo excursions into Rift sofar (level 15-ish) it’s been very enjoyable, I’ve often failed to notice levels being gained. I’m aiming ‘not’ to plough through the content and more enjoying the slow build up of the story line.

    DokChaos and I are attempting to pull off a static group thingy which has been hampered by discovering the Joy of Crafting (sadly no Bob Ross) and shiny invasions.

    If you aim to get a static team going let me know I’ll be happy to roll up something to join you. I think I can make most evenings excluding Thursdays.

  2. mutharex

    I am enjoying Rift so far, like I hadn’t enjoyed myself with a MMO in years.
    I believe WOW permanently ruined the market, by appeasing its post-TBC customers, that threw a feat if they weren’t max level in 2 days. Blizzard has been dumbing it down for years now (elite mobs removed from the world and relegated to Instances, mob difficulty lowered to the point you can watch TV while playing, general over simplification), by swapping real achievements with Achievements.
    Now all games fear that if levelling is too ‘slow’, people won’t play. I wish WOW never happened…

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @welshtroll: I think I might even wait for a few more days after release and let the next zerg-wave of players pass through, such that I can manage to target at least one thing in a rift before all four stages have been completed in the blink of an eye. It will also be interesting to see how rifts fare once the zerg of players has been reduced to more of a trickle, this quickly became an issue in WAR after the initial wave of players had passed after the game’s launch, for example.

    It may be that there is plenty to do at the level cap (the ultimate enforced static group), or that Trion intend to patch in more levelling content very quickly, but from the initial reports it seems as though Rift is in danger of becoming another quick-burn MMO, but at the moment there’s still plenty of opportunity for these indications to be proven false.

    Clearly, the great advantage Rift offers to a static group is the fact that although players will pick a particular archetype, they are not necessarily limited to a specific group role for the lifetime of the group. It’s definitely something worth considering.

    @mutharex: I do think you’re right, but I also believe that Blizzard began with good intentions. From the outset WoW was much more accessible than the EverQuest model it was based upon, but even so it still had much of the EverQuest nature to it – a long levelling grind, punishing dungeons of great length, etc. I think they initially meant to change their game to be even more accessible, but somewhere along the path they lost their way, at which point accessibility and triviality became somewhat confused. No doubt, making content accessible to the majority of players without trivialising that same content, is a fine line to walk; it may simply be that developers need to challenge the tried and trusted methods of creating difficulty in an MMO.

  4. Gankalicious

    Never fear, you are not alone. I was away for the pre-headstart-launch thingy as well. I’ve now logged 4 minutes in RIFT just to check the servers! I have no excuse now other than I can’t be arsed playing it….I’d rather wait for the rush to die off as well.

    I’m torn about leveling speed, but I think there is a balance that developers can strike. I really can’t remember how long it took me to hit the max in Guild Wars which may be an indication they got the balance right. The problem with GW as a comparison is that the cap was 20 :)

    I found Warhammer too difficult but that may be because of the great disparity between anyone with a few more levels than you. You simply couldn’t compete so maybe the lack of leveling seemed more frustrating. It felt ‘grindy’ which is to say, bad, and work-like. Pre-1.4 Tier 3 was like a slow death sentence.

    When I was in the RIFT Alpha I didn’t really notice the leveling after I hit 10 tbh but I lost interest in the game once I achieved all my souls at about 13 however so I may not be the best judge.

    I would be interested in a static group as well but the time zone issues may prevent me from joining you unless it was on the weekend. I’d prefer to roll Rogue (as does everyone I hear) but will happily go full healer or tank as needed. I’m GMT -6.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    Funnily enough I’ve just ended my time with a static group in WAR because the levelling is just too painful a combination, being both slow and repetitive, and occasionally interspersed with moments of despondency as someone ten levels higher pummels you effortlessly into the ground due to gear disparity.

    Guild Wars is a funny one for me because it’s a game I’ve never managed to get terribly far in, even though you technically are always in a group, even when playing solo…

    A static group could be a giggle, but time zones are indeed a pain; frankly, I blame the developers. I mean, is it really so much effort to change the orbit and rotation of the Earth when they release a game? Honestly, what are they doing with all that beta development time?

  6. John

    I took time off from work for head start, and now have two characters (warrior and rogue) comfortably in their 20s. I’m loving the game, but am a bit concerned that the leveling is indeed way too fast.

    I did rifts as soon as I could and out-leveled a ton of quest content. I tried pvp in the Black Garden as soon as I could and gained another 4 levels or so in an afternoon. Light night I wanted to work on crafting and gained another level just gathering leather.

    I did manage to luck into a good group for the first instance at exactly the right level for my character, but only on one of my two characters. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it was all so new to me that I certainly don’t remember most of it and I’d be ill-equipped to actually lead a group. I would have preferred to run it 4 or 5 times to really learn it, but even going through just the once gained me almost a full level. I’d prefer not to go back and run it at my current level because it was designed for characters in the 17-19 range and I’d be missing a lot of the interesting mechanics due to the fact that I’d be able to ignore the dangers and just power my group through.

    Admittedly, this does mean that there is plenty of early content that I’ll be able to go back and enjoy with alts, but I know it won’t quite be the same once I’ve leveled my first few to 50 and am able to see the entire journey from a birds-eye few. I’ve only played a week and already I’ve had the “omg big scary stone trolls 3 levels higher than me, I wonder how dangerous they are” experience. Such things only happen once.


  7. Gankalicious


    Ya, I figured from listening to your podcast that your group was hitting a bit of a wall in WAR. I couldn’t help but chuckle when you were discussing getting face-rolled in T4 but were getting bored with T3. The game has always had a T3 dead zone: Land of the Dead helped revive it for a bit but it was still a grind imo.

    If ever there was a case for faster levelling it was WAR! Of course that just means you’ll be getting destroyed by RR90 guys with better gear that much sooner……

    And yes, dammit, developers should have the courtesy to figure something out for me so I can play with people on the other side of the world at reasonable times. It is, quite frankly, rude, and I may write a stern letter, or at least tsk in their general direction should I see them.

  8. Melmoth Post author

    @John: I’ll be interested to hear how it’s going for you in a week or two. Maybe things spread out and slow down at the higher levels, but from what I’ve read that doesn’t seem to really be the case. However, it’s certainly encouraging that people are finding themselves able to level through means other than simply grinding out quests, if nothing else.

    @Gankalicious: Indeed, the prospect of grinding out those last remaining levels only to be stamped on for another sixty renown ranks wasn’t entirely inspiring either, I have to say.

    I think general consensus among the MMO slighted is that you should write an angry forum post declaring it at the least an outrage, if not a literal slap in the face.

  9. Sente

    I might pick up right in a few weeks/months – a fantasy MMO settings does not do so much to trigger my enthusiasm. Since I am usually a fairly slow leveler I would not keep up with the bulk of the early crowd anyway.

    I am more interested in seeing how it plays out once the initial rush has settled down. If it may still be playable and fun then I might end up playing it, if I get some spare time for it.

  10. Jon Shute

    I logged in a bit at the weekend, got some levels in and just ran out of steam. It’s a great game, but I think it was the number of levels I got in a few hours that did it.

    I kind of want levels to be hidden from my view nowadays and just have the content as a goal to reach. Levels now just scream “you are x% of the way through the first part of this game” at me now and that’s turning into a real turnoff.

  11. Melmoth Post author

    @Sente: If the game is still ticking over in a few months I’d definitely recommend giving it a try. The Defiant are techno-mages, so if you pick them as a faction you can at least take the edge off the squeaky-clean fantasy setting somewhat.

    @Jon Shute: I’m very much with you on removing levels, or at least obfuscating them when removing them entirely is not possible.

    I was playing sporadically last night whilst duoing around in LotRO with m’colleague, and I managed to go from a quarter of the way into level twelve to nudge level thirteen in the time it took for him to run us from Ost Guruth down to Harloeg in the south.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the levelling curve seems to be a factor out, such that the 10-20 levels are coming as quickly as the 1-10 levels in WoW used to.

  12. unwize

    My experience is that the 20s are much slower than the 10s, and I’d expect the trend to continue into the 30s and beyond.

    There is certainly plenty of content packed into the zones I’ve seen so far, and with plenty more to go. Multiply that for the other faction, and it’s safe to say that I’m going to be enjoying Rift for quite some time, at least.

  13. Melmoth Post author

    Good to hear.

    I’m still happily pootling around in the low teens, but then I’m also in the grip of a mild level of character indecision again. I think I’ve found the archetype that works for me, so now it’s just a matter of finding a few souls that give me some options solo and in groups.

    I’ve hopped onto the Guardian side of Argent as I just like that faction better for some reason, so I may still see some of you I2Iers around.

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