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Levelling Up Needs to Level Up

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You are Commander Sheppard, The captain of the Normandy and the first human specter. You have saved the galaxy from the evil grip of Saren. Now you are tasked with stopping the Reapers. You must go through a suicide mission and lose the very people you care about to save the galaxy… wait you need to put five points into biotic shockwave first.

Old school RPGs used leveling up as a means to gauge player progression. In part, you couldn’t fight the larger, more difficult bosses until you had leveled up. “There’s a dragon, holy crap I can't fight him till I’m level 50.” Yet, in most circumstances, what you do as a level one character is not very different than what you do as a level 50 character. Sure, you might have a few more abilities at your disposal, but the way you perceive the game world is still very much the same. Thrill and excitement are instantly dissipated through the gauging of stats and numbers.

I, however, have a solution.

Do away with the concept of leveling up or perceived progression. Show a realistic world, one that matches your PR buzz worlds. Give challenges that are real challenges. Enemies don’t need patterns and a glowing weak spot. What person in real life swings their shield three times then turns around and shows you their glowing core for 15 whole seconds then goes back to swinging their shield?

“But where’s my level up? Where’s my stat bar and menu? Why don’t I have strength or dexterity anymore?” The six to seven stat types of role-playing games have become stale. With the idea of realistic enemies, you can give way to player experience. That is what leveling up should be — learning how to deal with an enemy, something akin to a puzzle and getting better and faster at it.  It should be about using your knowledge/intelligence to deal with a situation, rather than depending on arbitrary numbers and bits of data. With this solution not only does your character get stronger, you, as a player, evolve in your way of thinking about a situation. Thus, by the end of the game you aren’t treated to the same frag-fest romp that is typical of every major action title's conclusion.  This could, essentially, make you into a badass both in game and outside of it. 

To be clear, I love RPGs, but as someone who grew up playing Baldur’s Gate 2 and Fallout 2, the formula is starting to wear on me. If we are introducing the idea of player immersion, then we need to shift the way we view RPGs, number crunching are no longer acceptable. At the end of the day which is cooler, fighting 30 level 20 soldiers as a level 50 or beating the living crap out of 30 soldiers while death is just smiling at you the whole time?

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About Natewc

  • Andrew Wood

    I feel your pain, but such are the defining properties of the RPG genre.

    I know many gamers who enjoy this style of play. They are able to immerse themselves in a story and effectively “play” the main “role” in the “game”. They value the storyline in which they have become interested so much that the mindless grinding they must partake in is no longer a chore. They become lost in a virtual reality.

    These types of gamers differ from gamers like you and I. I rarely play RPGs, but when I do I find the grinding to be tedious and dull just as you have described. We are power gamers and we want constant challenges rather than the passive-aggressive, shield-wielding foe who exposes his core for us to assault using every offensive tactic we have.

    This type of game play is most definitely dull and repetitive especially after having encountered it in RPG titles for years. It is simple and scripted; welcome to artificial intelligence.

    Scripted isn’t always bad though. Imagine playing the role of your archetypal warrior, shield and sword in hand, and encountering a random foe of any type. This foe’s script generates a random sequence of attacks when the encounter begins and will use this sequence until he has taken x points of damage or for a short time period (such as 20 seconds). The sequence is then changed such that the player will have benefited in some way (earn a bonus to moral? combo points? extra stats? optional abilities?) had they learned the sequence and countered it appropriately (blocking? sidestep? attacking?), but will be in detriment had they failed to do so all while having to react and learn the new sequence.

    A glorified and intense game of rock-paper-scissors.

    The foe falls after the damage done exceeds his health pool and the player collects his loot just as in any game. We retain the classic elements of RPGs such as experience gain and loot collection while incorporating a fast-paced, diverse combat system that gets our adrenaline flowing.

    I may have gotten carried away. The mechanics and mathematical operations required to carry out such a system without turning the game into an action or adventure type are probably extremely difficult to create and integrate.

    Another problem is the market. Most power gamers opt to play online games due to the fact that it allows for competition, socialization, and… wait for it… unique tactics created by other human players. Even in MMOs where scripted raid encounters reign supreme (I played World of Warcraft for three years), power gamers can satiate their competitive hunger by acquiring loot that others don’t have or by fighting against other player characters. Most gamers who simply enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and relatively slow pace of an RPG aren’t going to want to play games that require the extra mental investment.

    Just my two cents.