Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Could a MMORPG work without levels?
While most people enjoy the character development part of a MMORPG, the level-based gameplay does tend to produce some problems. In PvE it is hard for players of different levels to play together, and in PvP big level differences make fighting each other pointless. One of the first big commercial MMORPGs, Ultima Online, didn't have levels. But it had a skill system, and in the end it doesn't really matter whether you are much better than another player because you have more levels or because you have more skill points. So I am wondering whether a MMORPG would be possible in which there are no levels or skill points at all, where your character would *not* become stronger with time.
Imagine a game where you spend the first hour creating a complete character, including all possible skills, talent builds, and everything. You step into the virtual world, and from now on there is no more numerical change of your stats. You don't earn experience points, don't gain levels, don't get additional skills, and don't gain stats by finding weapons or armor that adds stats. The only improvement to your character is by you learning how to use your skills most effectively. If you meet another player in the game who has chosen the same class and build as you, you will have exactly the same stats as he has, even if one of you spent hundreds of hours more than the other in game. Thus there is no barrier to you either working together or fighting each other in PvP.
If there are no xp and no stats on loot, how do you motivate people to go adventuring? With status symbols. For example the game would have epic armor looking all shiny and much better than the armor you started the game with. Only it would have exactly the same stats. And all gear would decay with use, so gaining gold and looted gear, or crafting gear, would not be useless. Borrowing elements from Lord of the Rings Online, there would be lots of titles you could earn, depending on your actions. And there would be an elaborate system of player housing, so the longer you play, the bigger a house you could afford, and it would be stuffed with lots of trophies from your adventures. If you killed the dragon, you could have the head of the dragon on display over your fireplace. There also could be reputation points to be gained, that would give you access to status items and tradeskill recipes. You could even have visual upgrades to your skills, like colored fireballs or other special effects, as long as that fireball still does the same damage as every other fireball.
Such a game could be the ultimate "world" MMORPG, with people having the impression of living in that world. There would be lots of goals and achievements, but no numerical differences. There would be no problems of "aging" server populations, newbies not able to play with or against veterans, or people complaining about the end-game, because all the game is the end-game. Would you play such a game?