Life Without Levels

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.

3 thoughts on “Life Without Levels

  1. The trick in TSW is in the gear. While you have no levels, your gear is a noticeable aspect of your characters strength. Luckily zones are balanced in a way that the drops and mission rewards of the previous zone is good enough for the present zone, while stuff from the present zone again is good enough to be able to play in the next zone.

    Thus the quality of the gear you have is a kind of hidden “level”, although it’s not so much “guaranteed win” as in traditional leveling games. I more than once ran into people who were on the help channel with “i need better weapons” and “the game sucks, the enemies are too hard” and all that. When meeting them and inspecting them, i repeatedly found that they used all-tank talismans, thus having an abysmal attack rating. Yea, sometimes am conflicted here. On one hand I really appreciate that the game treats you as a grown up, who can make his own decisions and has his own fortune in his hands, on the other hand it is quite obvious that there are players around who could use a lot more hand-holding to get along. (Wow, quite many hands in this sentence. ) So from a financial point of view, I fear that it would’ve been better for the game to treat it’s customers more like kids and less like grown-ups. 😦

    In contrast to the progression by gear, the more visible system of skills is less of a factor than new players feel it to be. While you get plenty of abilities and passives, you can have “everything you need till Tokyo” before even leaving Solomon island. By just completing the inner wheel and cherry-picking a few passives from the outer wheel, you can have a setup (no matter which weapons you use) which can take you through all solo content and might just need small adjustments for dungeons.

    That’s the real beauty of the system, you continue gaining AP for a long time, but you won’t really gain much more power. Generally the outer-wheel abilities deal the same damage as the inner-wheel abilities, they only have other side-effects or other synergies. (Even in highly sophisticated endgame setups you regularily find abilities from the inner wheel. They also have synergies, just different ones than those on the outer wheel. ) Instead you get flexibility and adaptability for specific threats. There will be times you’ll be very glad of the additional options.

    Bonus info: Only last week my girl for the first time agreed to join for a nightmare scenario. So while i did some solo and duo nightmare with cabal mates before, it was the first time that we went for group nightmare scenario. In turn, after being soundly defeated that the first attempt, some tactics discussion and a lot of setup adjustments, i had some abilities on my bar which i never used before, despite already playing since launch. And alas, the changes paid off, we not only beat the scenario, but even got the platinum reward. (All the same, the setup got some more improvements afterwards, so hopefully next time it’ll be a tad easier… )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your right about the gear, it does serve as the equivalent of “levels” in TSW. While the state increase may be comparable, what makes the experience better for me as a player is that just like you said. The gear I get from a zone wills never allow me to one shot mobs or feel unkillable. Even once you’ve got a full set of the highest QL gear a zone offers you will still find combat challenging at times.

      I didn’t think about the stats being confusing for new players, that’s a good point. I’ve played MMOs enough that I’ve been making sure my hit and attack power is enough that I’m connecting and doing damage but otherwise I could see a lot of confusion. In fact, I’ve noticed a much higher percentage of tank gear drops than any other so I could definitely see a new player ending up with way too many mitigation stats.


  2. Pingback: MrLuvva’s Luv-In #35 | mrluvvaluvva

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