The Tyranny Of Levels

WoW has reinforced for me, in ways I had nearly forgotten, the way that levels swamp all considerations of skill or even sanity. This is especially striking coming off a long binge of Team Fortress 2, where a good headshot kills anything.

Level-related modifiers stack to make it pointless to play outside a narrow range. It would be enough to have the numbers get larger with every level, as they do, so good luck using that 50 damage attack against the 200,000hp enemy. Most games add a modifier based on level differences: it is not just that you get higher stats and better accuracy as you level, but also that you have a bonus to hit lower-level targets, with a corresponding penalty against bigger targets. You also face reduced damage against them, above and beyond their improved defenses, while they get those benefits against you, the lower-level target.

Let’s linger there a moment. Long long ago, City of Heroes had its “purple patch,” which imposed level modifiers. Your 50 damage attack against the 200,000hp enemy would only do 20 damage, and that was before applying the enemy’s defenses. Even if you could take down higher level enemies, it was not worth it for the time involved. (And, just in case you found a time-efficient way to do it, much higher level enemies yielded less or no experience.) WoW feels similar. Asheron’s Call assigns levels to enemies but intends them as rough guides to how powerful they are, with modifiers to experience gains but not relative effectiveness.

This makes fighting an even-con elite easier than a higher-level normal foe. Sure, it may have three times as many hit points, but I do not have an arbitrary accuracy penalty, so I can hit the thing. I can kill a caster six levels higher than me, but it takes a few minutes, and I could get the same reward from killing two lower-level foes in half the time.

: Zubon

I am open to the notion that WoW looks this way due to the way weapon skills work, rather than some additional penalty. A level-based hard cap on weapon skills creates the same effect.

10 thoughts on “The Tyranny Of Levels”

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I often wonder how many people (coming off WoW or other typical MMOs) accept this as just the way things ARE.

  2. So far it did not happen, but the NEVERENDING progression of chars, items, stats is killing MMOs.

    How many expansions can a MMO based on this system sustain before it becomes unmanageable, when mere rats of high level have more HP than former raid bosses? The first sign is a slow down, less levels per expansion. And well… this is the beginning of the end.

    Ultima Online, EVE Online, Guild Wars -> there are games that show that games do not need neverending progression to be good.

    The so called “horizontal” progression is also often mentioned, it might not be the wonder cure for everything, but it is very desirable for the longevity of worlds. Makes it easier for newcomers to catch up, and does not turn 95% of the world into boring low level zones for the max level guys.

  3. Actually I think you’ve got it backwards with the CoX purple patch. There were always scaling modifiers to damage and accuracy, but generally they were very gentle. This led to people forming giant teams to fight the purplest purples they could find, even though they didn’t provide any more XP than +3 enemies.

    Because more purples = more better, right?

    The purple patch turned that gentle slope into a sheer cliff at about the point you’d be chipping away at HP for no actual benefit.

  4. @Longasc

    Ummm, EVE has never-ending progression. Players just don’t need expansions to keep progressing and the law of diminishing returns is applied correctly in EVE so that a player with 50 million skill points isn’t that more dominant than someone with 10 million skill points. The 50 million sp player just has more choices.

  5. Just another common sense reason why the future of MMOs should be FPS-like combat systems. Of course, the technology to pull it off without suffering from a large amount of lag isn’t where it needs to be.

  6. It’s how weapon skill works.

    and hit rating
    and expertise

    and the arcane intricacies of blizzard’s servers <- PATCH DAY LOLOLOLOL my onyxia reset said it would reset tonight, then changed itself to a 7day reset when i logged out. Huge lag over the majority of servers, etc. i <3 patch day.

  7. As Jemre alluded, in WoW you have a 14% base chance to miss something your level, + 1% per level up to three levels above you. Therefore, if you’re fighting three levels above or an on-level raid boss (which automatically counts as +3 levels), you have a 17% chance to miss unless you have made up for it with whatever hit rating is needed at your level. It’s something like 26.5 rating per 1% at level 80. And yes, it’s very difficult to find hit rating stats on non-endgame (current or previous) gear, and it’s not really worth it until endgame because you’ll keep enchanting and gemming but still every time you level your needed hit cap will go up, and, more importantly, it’s a bit of an obscure game mechanic which shuts out new players in favor of the theorycrafting addicts. I play almost exclusively with my husband (whee! just got married last week; still walking on air) and a couple of our co-workers, and between two players, you can usually put together a pair without too much pain that makes those fights possible even with the penalty.

  8. @ Bhagpuss, I think one of the things that gets highlighted here, though, is that WoW has three such systems working simultaneously–levels, weapon skills, and hit penalty at the same time. I agree about the FPS mechanic. I think there should be games like that, but I would not be interested in playing them.

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