Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The flexible solution
In the third and last article on how to solve the problem of new players solo rushing through old content to reach the level cap and then not knowing how to group once arrived there, I'm going to talk about flexible levels. The last group I did with my mage was running a level 11 warrior and level 14 shaman through RFC. Seeing how a high-level mage with AoE kills a whole room full of mobs at the same time is fun, but of course the dungeon trip was very short and didn't teach the low level players anything about real grouping. But what if I could have lowered the level of my mage to 14, and get some more players of other levels to join us in a level 14ish group? Similar systems have great success in games like City of Heroes.
Rushing through a dungeon with a character of too high a level isn't all that exciting. The challenge is missing, and there are no rewards. Nevertheless level 70 players visit low level dungeons more often than you would think, to help friends, out of nostalgia, or because they are bored of the limited number of level 70 dungeons. It would be easy to increase the participation of high-level players in low-level content if we just added some challenge and rewards.
Adding challenge is easy enough. Most stats, spell effects and abilities are numerical values and can easily be scaled. Blizzard already changed most low-level dungeons to have a less wide level range. For example Shadowfang Keep used to have mobs from level 18 to 26, but now all bosses are level 20 to 21. Thus we could downscale everyone joining a Shadowfang Keep group to level 21, and make the dungeon interesting for everyone in the group. Of course that will need some intelligent design decisions from Blizzard, deciding whether people lose spells or talents they wouldn't have at the lower levels, and how to downscale the effect of equipment. I think it would be best if a downscaled character wasn't any more powerful than a real character of that level, even if as level 70 he was wearing full epics. The purpose after all is to keep it interesting.
Adding rewards should be possible too. We already have a faction of time travelers, why not add a new faction of level travelers? Whenever a higher level player would join a lower-level dungeon group, he would gain reputation points for every kill and badges from every boss to make up for the lack of interest in the low-level loot that drops. The players in the group that are actually of the level of the dungeon don't get the points and badges, but the loot should be more interesting for them. The reputation and badges could then be used in the usual way to buy recipes and gear for the high-level characters which is actually useful at their high level.
Giving people the possibility to downscale their level and join groups of lower level players fulfills several purposes. For the lower level players it makes finding a group easier, because there are now more people interested in joining one. It is to be hoped that by mixing veterans and new players there will be some transfer of knowledge, with the veteran players teaching the newbies how to group. For the high level players the possibility to revisit old content in a non-trivial way opens up more possibilities and choices. The more choice a player has on what to do next, the better.