One of the unique aspects of progression in The Secret World is that there are no levels. I’ve heard of this approach in MMOs before but I’ve never played a level-less MMO. Honestly I always thought removing levels was a bad idea because I like the feeling of “dinging” another level and growing in power. However now that I’ve had the chance to try a game that focuses on skill points rather than levels, I have to say I’m sold on the idea so long as it’s done well.
When I was in high school during my freshman year I was paranoid about being late. I would obsessively check my watch as I maneuvered through the student-congested halls of our large school building fearing that I wouldn’t make it to my next class on time. Finally I had had enough and got rid of the watch. There was a freedom in having no idea what time it was that helped me overcome the fear of being late.
Playing an MMO without levels is like that. One of the obvious advantages I’ve found is that I now gage progression by completing all the missions in a zone rather than by my level. Since I never feel like I’ve “outleveled” a zone by becoming too powerful, I’m much more content to stick around and complete every mission in the area. Sure, it’s possible to do this in games with levels and I’ve tried but it never lasts long. Eventually I get tired of being so overpowered in a zone or start to feel the pressure of reaching the end where the “real game” begins and skip ahead to stay at level and progress more quickly.
The pacing has to be done correctly for this to work. I still want to see growth in my character and in this I think TSW does a good job. I earn AP and SP frequently enough to add a new active or passive skill that I feel rewarded for completing a mission. If it happens too slowly the lack of levels will be noticed more because in MMOs like World of Warcraft levels function as arbitrary benchmarks, giving you a sense of reward between new talents or skills. The Elder Scrolls Online is a good example of pacing that is too slow. It has both levels and skill points but I think the game would be much better if the levels were removed completely and the skill points (at least at the lower levels) were given out more frequently.
So I’m enjoying the different style of progression that a level-less game like The Secret World provides. As a result I’ve seen far more of what the world has to offer and I don’t feel the usual rush to reach the end. As long as I keep getting the AP and SP at a rewarding rate, I’ll continue to be a happy little vampire slayer in this new life without levels.