The Great Divide

So, I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again.  In large part to play with a couple of friends.  The wife and I have been playing a couple of weeks now, but we’ve yet to actually play with the friends we came to join.  You see, they started before us and as such they are about ten or so levels ahead.  We have been trying to catch up, but since they keep playing also we essentially only succeed in keep the gap consistent.

Another friend of ours decided to join us too.  A little later than us.  He’s about ten or so levels behind us and in similar fashion he is trying to catch up but is really only keeping the gap consistent.

People keep telling me that it’ll be okay when we hit the level cap, which will only take a couple of months (or so they tell me).  For the moment, the wife and I are splitting our time between some characters to try and slow ourselves down a bit, which will let the man behind us catch up but lets the people in front of us get further away.

I really dislike this, and it happens in every game.  Well, not in EVE.  Whenever I get into discussions about class based or skill based systems, after going back and forth for a long while I always end up settling on the fact that either system works and either can be better and that it all depends on the quality of the system.  But one tangent that always emerges is that I wish less MMOs were level based.

I understand that, in general, people like levels, because it’s an easy way to measure progress and be rewarded.  Ding! But levels divide your players, which can be good (spreading them out over different level appropriate areas) and bad (you now have to deal with special coding for any PvP interactions around the power increases levels provide and prevention of power leveling, etc).  In my opinion, games need to find other ways to reward people, and to separate power from what is essentially time played.  In EVE, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played for 5 years or 5 months, once you get into a ship the only thing that matters are the skills related to that ship.  And a 5 month player can kick the ass of a 5 year player given the right ships and situation.  But when was the last time a level 15 killed a level 80 in WoW?  Never?  Is it because the level 80 is better or because he’s been around longer?  Neither actually, it’s because the game doesn’t allow people of that sort of disparity to fight in most cases because they are well aware of the futility of the position of the level 15 player.

We need an alternative to levels/time defining power in fantasy games.  And we need ways for people to play together no matter how long they’ve been playing without starting over.


  1. EQ2 has this, at least the playing together part. They call it mentoring. You can join a group of lower level people and, while maintaining the spells/skills you got at higher level, their effectiveness (damage output, healing amount, etc) is reduced to the effectiveness of the level of the players you’re with.

    I did some of this with a friend of mine when we played EQ2 together and he rerolled from a monk to a shadowknight. I took my templar out to play with him and was forced to mentor down to his level in order to group with him. Prevents power-leveling, gave us the ability to play together without me rerolling as well… all in all, I really liked it as a system and wish more games did it.

  2. City of Heroes has sidekicking, which addressed this very issue and was copied so much by EQ2 and so many other services that I’m really surprised WoW doesn’t have this.

  3. Yeah, both of those systems are nice, but in my opinion they have the same flaw. Most people who’ve worked to be level 80 don’t want to be stripped to level 15 to play with their friends. And most people who are level 15, don’t want to be artificially leveled to 80, not gain the new abilities of a level 80, and see content they can’t properly experience because they don’t have the varied abilities of a level 80.

    The real issue is that the characters are defines by their level, and sliding them up and down the scale you have to hamstring or augment them in ways that harms the experience, in my opinion.

  4. I didn’t have any issues with it myself. Being “hamstringed” as you put it made it challenging, I continued gaining experience at a rate appropriate to my reduced level, got to spend time with a friend and didn’t have that “oh god why am I doing this” power leveling feeling.

    I am of the opinion that friends would rather mentor than power level. I’ve done both, and mentoring was at least fun, while power leveling was just “ok, what elite do I kill?”.

  5. Oh, I admit, mentoring is better than sidekicking… sidekicking was just odd. Suddenly you are level 40, but you still only have 2 powers! Ugh.

    My main issues with mentoring is that odds are, the content you (the low level character) are doing is content I (the high level) have already done. But lack of content and content repetition is another whole ball of wax to be tackled in another post.

    1. At least in the case of EQ2 — now, granted, I haven’t played it to any huge level, I think my highest is a lev 30ish warden I worked on during the Shadowy xpac, one of the more recent ones, but… — I believe if you go down to a low level there is a decent chance it’s content you haven’t done before.

      There seems to be quite a number of zones you could possibly do for the lower levels at least before it starts funneling.

      Of course, if you’re a veteran of the game and seen and done everything anyway, that’s a different story, but I guess if you’re still playing at that point, it may not be such a big deal to you in any case.

  6. In a genre so ostensibly centered on players playing together, it really is interesting to see the leveling system as prominent as it is, when it’s so divisive.

    I’m not sure if that’s just a holdover from RPGs or something actually intended to split up the population base.

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