Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Paradox of Gaining Exp "Too Quickly"?

When I was looking into whether I wanted to take EQ2 for a spin, one of the things that caught my attention was the practice of "level locking". EQ2 offers a pair of toggles to disable exp from killing enemies, exp from completing quests, or both. The latter option still allows exp gain from discovery and some other sources, but cuts off the vast majority of experience. This intrigued me because it seems so counter intuitive.

The whole paradigm of the persistent MMORPG is to spend time to get character progress, the most visible form of which is in the form of experience. EQ2 doesn't really have WoW-style level-capped PVP brackets (it does offer some level-capped repeatable quests for faction), so why would players decide en masse that they wanted to THROTTLE their exp gain at a time when most companies (including, in the view of level lockers, SOE) are working to INCREASE the rate of exp gain?

What's so bad about leveling too fast?
There are two major issues associated with fast leveling in EQ2.

The first, and most important in my view, is out-leveling content. I'm going to hit level 20 having spent my teens entirely in a single zone. The catch is that there are five zones with content in that level range. That isn't true all the way to the level cap, and I will probably be back on alts somewhere down the line. That said, I'm largely here to experience the game, and missing a large chunk of the game (and/or playing it after it has become trivial) seems counterproductive.

The second issue is that it is hard to keep up with various non-experience areas, such as crafting, gear, and alternate achievement points (EQ2's talent equivalents, earned via completing quests and discovering locations on the map). Though I suppose that lagging in these areas can help add some challenge back into the game, you are going to want to catch up eventually, and that can end up feeling grind-ish if you try to do it all in a sitting.

How did this happen?
The current situation is not entirely without its merits - it certainly makes things easier on classes that are not solo powerhouses (such as my Dirge, a class better known for providing major buffs for party/raid members than for solo prowess). Still, one might wonder how the game got to the point where I'm even asking if the experience is coming too quickly.

The answer may lie in EQ2's focus on group/raid content. Though they do offer a full-featured mentoring system (high level friend temporarily drops down to group with low level buddy), the group content that's getting the most attention is the stuff at the level cap. Just as Blizzard has done, it is easier to skip players past the existing content than it is to reinvigorate the older stuff, and that goes double for a game that wants a greater focus on group content but may not have the low-level population to support it.

Still, one has to wonder whether it's in the long-term best interest of the game to put players in the position of potentially skipping so much of it. Perhaps the majority of serious new players are jumping in to join their friends in raiding, but I find it hard to believe that I'm the only one checking the game out for its leveling content. I love my incentives enough to start a whole blog about them, so when even I am considering voluntarily cutting my exp gain in half in order to see more of the sights, that might be a bad sign.


HolyGhost said...

Locking out XP in EQ2 is also good for Twink PK's

Green Armadillo said...

Is there some advantage for PK'ing players within your level range, that you won't get if you outlevel them? (I'm on a non-PVP RP server, so I'm not really familiar with the system.)

DeftyJames said...

I agree completely. There are lots of reasons not to level up, but I think you hit upon the main one which is out-growing content. One you over-looked is skill. It takes time to learn how to play a class properly. One of the reasons I think there is so much QQ about bad raiders is because newbies rush to the top without ever learning how to play the class, and then no one wants to take the time to teach them in the middle of Naxx.

But I think the real problem is one of money. If Blizzard goes back and renews old content, how do they charge for that? There really isn't any incentive to fix bugs in classic WoW, for example, which is why it only gets done as an after thought. New content generates new revenue.

Indeed, the problem is so bad that I am convinced that at some point in time Blizzard will offer the option to pay to level an alt to the level cap. There is only so much "dead" content people are willing to wade through.

Green Armadillo said...

@DJ: As long as the primary form of leveling content in the game is solo PVE, the actual amount of time spent leveling is irrelevant to the amount of group competence characters will have when they arrive at the cap. I suppose you could take it to some extreme (e.g. halve solo exp while leaving instance exp at its current level) and HOPE that players would try and find instance groups to alleviate the pain, but, more likely, you'll just succeed in making things less fun for new players and alts without actually teaching players very much about how their class plays at the cap.

The irony in EQ2 is that there doesn't seem to be anything WRONG with the content that I'm not able to do. The quest hubs are reasonably placed, the quests are reasonably well implemented (if perhaps unoriginal - I was LITERALLY assigned to kill 10 rats at one point), etc. I haven't seen any of the endless travel quests that seem to plague WoW's middle levels (e.g. the line that sic's Stitches on Duskwood, in which players run back and forth across the whole zone repeatedly just to turn in quests and obtain the followup).

I think you're absolutely right - if the problem is that people who don't want to have to solo to get at the group content, the solution is to let them skip to the cap somehow, not to nerf solo content that's in perfectly acceptable shape as is - I've been predicting level 55 for all WoW classes sometime this year for a while now.

Syrana said...

Hmm, I guess locking out experience makes sense if you are still trying to build up your spell/weapon skills to be appropriate.

The other thing I thought of... it would be sweet if WoW did have the option to turn off experience gained by mobs. And the reason I say this is because my husband and I are leveling together. However, there are times we'd like to split apart to farm some materials for our professions during this leveling process. If we could turn off the exp gain from mobs while we did that bit of farming, it would keep us even for our time questing together.

Green Armadillo said...

@Syrana: Yeah, I have that problem on the hunter I play with my wife's druid as well. I think the main reason WoW doesn't offer it as a feature is because of PVP battleground twinks. It's unfortunate, and a broken broken system (it seems that every patch we see some issue where Twinks have gotten something they weren't supposed to get), but apparently there are more people who like to twink than there are people who are disappointed that low level battlegrounds are unplayable due to characters who are currently leveling up.