Wednesday 17 February 2010

Levelling the playing field.

Could Blizzard compress the ‘levelling’ component of World of Warcraft into the first ten levels?

Let’s face it, the levelling game these days is just a very long-winded way to introduce a set of abilities and talents to a player without swamping them with information. Could a character be given all of their abilities, graduate if you will, in the first ten levels and the player still be expected to play that class with some level of competence?

If so, would it then be possible to have three paths of ‘end game’ content: raiding, PvP and adventuring. Level ten and higher zones could be revamped to present quest and exploration content of varying difficulty for graduated characters and also provide rewards that are equivalent in power to those found in raiding and PvP. Trying a new class would be trivial, as would finding other players to group with for quest content, since you’d all be the same level.

Raiding follows the generic arcade game design: a static playing piece that moves from game level to game level, repeating that level until perfected and then moving on. PvP arenas and battlegrounds follow the generic board game design: static playing pieces and a static board, with random chance and the players’ decisions making each play through unique. Currently WoW’s adventuring game is a legacy of the generic RPG design, where a character gains levels slowly, out-levelling one set of content (some of which may not even have been played through) whilst levelling into range of another set, and subsequently gaining new abilities slowly over a long period of time; this slow bloom is pronounced in WoW, where many classes really only gain some of their more powerful signature abilities in later levels, often feeling underpowered or lifeless before that time.

I think the introduction of the Death Knight class shows us the way, and games like Guild Wars show us that a relatively short levelling component to a game does not preclude players from going out and enjoying general PvE content, doubly impressive when the game’s main focus is PvP. So it is possible to have a much shorter curve of character graduation and still provide PvE content that keeps players interested and adventuring within an MMO, but alas I imagine that it would take an event of cataclysmic proportions for Blizzard to repurpose their game in this way.

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