I spotted an interesting post over on MMOMeltingPot: “Is It Time To Shoot “Levels” In The Head?” You should go an read it.
TL;DR: (really, you should go read it )
[Richard Bartel is] arguing that “levels” make no in-game sense, that they separate friends from playing together, and that it would be trivial to come up with a better solution
I think it’s too late for WoW. Seriously. This many years into the game.. with thousands of level-based quests/mobs/items implemented is WAY to late to think about eliminating the concept of levels.
But.. in WoW, what do levels do for us? and what would a WoW-like game look like if they didn’t have levels?
Levels, and the leveling path, give you a task list. Do this thing, gain more levels so you can move on to other leveling areas/gain faction/gain high level gear so you can enter endgame. It’s nice and mindless.. you don’t have to decide your goals for the game.. initially the game give you the goals automatical: “Increase your level until you hit the current cap” It’s easy to do .. and they give you an ant trail to follow. Quest A leads to Quest B leads to Quest C. Along the way the quests gently (and sometimes not so gently) urge you to cross into another area on the map and the levels increase around you as your level increases. It also gates players. If I’m new to the game I have 90 levels of content to play through before I can play with my friends at endgame. It’s a barrier to new players. It’s also a barrier to leveling new characters. I cannot stand the idea of leveling through Outlands AGAIN but with the current leveling system there’s no choice.
If the WoW gaming experience consisted of a 3-4 hour “intro to your character’s abilities” followed by an open sandbox world.. where quests exist and you can do quests wherever you want then why would anyone quest through the whole world? Yes, there are those who would do it because they want to experience it all.. and those whose “fun” consists of exploration.. but through many different paths Blizz has seen that players will skip the “fun” experiences in order to maximize their character. So if you could do quests anywhere across the world at any time.. then I expect the gaming experience for some players would boil down to “which quest do I need to do to get the best head gear/weapon/off-hand/etc?” and all the rest of the questing experience would be left un-done.
This hamstrings the game designers when they’re trying to show (not tell) you the lore of the game. If you’re cherry-picking only the 10 best equipment giving quests across the world you’re not going to see the unfolding stories that happen in each area. Instead you will cherry pick the best-of equipment.. and then go on to “experience” the world in raids. That doesn’t sound to me like something with a lot of staying power.
Life has no levels.. Today I am not wearing my level 40 t-shirt of software engineering. I was not suddenly rofl-stomped by higher leveled hooligans when I moved from the back woods of Montana to the San Francisco Bay Area. Life has intrinsic goals: food to eat, water to drink, warm/dry place to sleep, bonus gear to improve my existence. Beyond my basic goals I guess I have determined which RL quests I pursue(high school, college, good paying job, home ownership, etc). I experience the story of the world by consuming the media of the world past and present both globally and locally.
I suppose that could be taken as a blueprint for a level-less WoW but I’m at a loss as to exactly how you’d implement it.