Tag Archives: Level Cap

Dateline Drustvar

I finally managed to get to level cap in Battle for Azeroth.

The moment hits at last

After an enthusiastic launch into the expansion when it hit, where I embraced the story and spoke lovingly about the look at feel of the zones in the expansion, I hit a wall.  Well, less a wall than some quicksand mechanics that seemed to be dragging me down the further I progressed into the expansion.

That ended up being the scaling system, which pegs off your item level.  However, difficulty climbed probably faster than your item level probably required.

The balance and speed of combat is a fine line.  Nobody wants to run around one-shotting every mob.  Well, okay, yes, we all like to do that once in a while, but it gets dull after a bit.

On the flip side, if every solo mob on the field turns into a protracted struggle that requires multiple passes through your rotation and some healing afterwards, the game can become a slog.  You kill one mob and look up and realize you need to go through that a dozen more times to get to your objective and the fun can start to wear off.

That was starting to get to me, which ended up with me spending some time playing EverQuest II, where I flip-flopped between one-shotting things with a hard glace and getting my posterior handed to me, often without any discernible logic.

Yes, I solo’d that no problem, why do you ask?

The coming of BlizzCon though, that started to turn my mind back to Azeroth.  The WoW Classic demo was really my intention.  But after playing that for a bit, I swapped over and started back in on my main in Battle for Azeroth.  As a bit of a pack rat, I found I hadn’t discarded some of my lower item level gear.

I also found some leftover Winter Vale candy in my bag

I managed to balance myself out to be able to carry on through Stormsong Valley, which I finished up on Sunday, getting both the exploration and story complete achievements.  Having already done Trigarde Sound, that left me with Drustvar.  By that point I was already level 119 and pretty close to hitting the final level.  So it took just a few quests there in order to hit the magic mark.

Once I hit the level cap, a few new options opened up for me.  I ran off to get the next foothold on Zandalar.  I also did the obligatory island expedition learning thing, so I am starting to see what people were complaining about.  And then I got the quest that I need to wrap up in order to unlock world quests, which will open up the faction grind that seems likely to eventually make flying a thing.

That quest

Having completed two zones, I am already honored with two of the three factions I need.  I suspect that running the quest lines in Drustvar will get me the third.  At this point I am also going to run some of the dungeons to boost my gear.  Since the rewards you get are always pegged to your level, I always feel like it is a bit of a waste to get dungeon rewards that don’t really help all that much.

We shall see.

My Secret EverQuest II Shame

I mentioned the expansion unlock poll on the Stormhold server last week. (It passed.)  But there was another poll available as well.  It was aimed at classifying what aspects of the game the people taking the poll enjoyed most.

But there was one question that struck right at the heart of a problem of mine in Norrath.

The pointed question

The pointed question

How many EverQuest II characters do I have at max level?  I have no EverQuest II characters at max level.  in the near dozen years the game has been out… and I played it pretty actively at various points in that time frame… I have, at no time, ever had a character at max level.

At least not for adventure levels.  I may have hit the tradeskill level cap before Desert of Flames came out, and again during that time frame.  But for adventure level, which is what really counts in my book, I have never been there.

And relative to the current level cap, I am still back in Rise of Kunark as far as levels go.

Too many alts, too much tradeskilling, and too much just screwing around in game I guess.  Not that I didn’t enjoy myself, but there have been times when I wish I had focused a bit more.

Are Level Cap Increases an Aberration?

One of the things I like about doing the predictions post every year is that I try to come up with some random items or take some minor event and run it to its extreme conclusion.  Then I start to think about if what I came up with was even possible.

Such was the case with companies selling jumps up to the current content.  That was a thing in 2013, with SOE offering to sell people a level 85 character in EverQuest II, Turbine experimenting with selling boosts to level 50 in Lord of the Rings Online, and Blizzard offering a character boost to level 90 with the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In a very short span of time the idea of buying into a high level character went from a subject of theoretical debate to a reality, with three key companies appearing to opt in on the idea.

With those three offers out there, I figured I would declare 2014 to be the year of such offers, with the floodgates opening and MMOs everywhere racing to match these deals.  I even started to make a list of games that I expected to offer insta-levels for cash.

Which ended up being a pretty short list.

The thing is, in my world view, such insta-level offers make sense only in a specific set of circumstances.  You have to have an MMO that was popular/successful enough to have sold expansions that raised the level cap so that there is a large mid-level gulf in the player base between the old hands in the latest (and presumably best) content.  I would call this the classic EverQuest scenario of MMO success.

However, using that scenario as a measure of success doesn’t leave very many successful MMOs.  Listing them out from memory I got:

  • EverQuest – starts the trend
  • EverQuest II – assumed the pattern set by EQ
  • World of Warcraft – refines the EQ pattern, at least in timing
  • Lord of the Rings Online – sets out on the now established path
  • Rift – follows WoW in this as in so many things

These are the games that are, in my mind, the norm for MMORPGs.  (Who else has had expansions with level cap increases?  I am sure I have missed someone there.)

In reality though, that list is not at all the norm for MMOs.  Those five represent a very small fraction of the population of MMORPG titles and certainly are not the only successful titles in the history of the genre.  Leaving aside the Asian imports and browser games, the list of MMOs that were both successful… a disputed term, I know… and have had no level cap increase is substantial.  You can tick off Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Asheron’s Call, Star Wars: Galaxies, City of Heroes, Guild Wars (close enough to an MMO for this discussion) and EVE Online (or does EVE even fit in this picture?) pretty quickly before getting to titles like Vanguard, Age of Conan, or Star Wars: The Old Republic, that probably did not or will not get EverQuest-like expansions because they were not successful enough.

Which is what brought me around to the title of this post.  Are level cap increases… especially expansion related increases… an aberration that were just part of the genre in its infancy, but which is unlikely to carry on going forward?  Even EverQuest’s direct predecessor, TorilMUD, hasn’t had a level cap increase since launch.

And, as a follow on to that, in a market where the level cap at launch is likely to be the level cap for the lifetime of the game, does the insta-level option have a future?  Or do level cap increases enter into that equation when most of your population ends up crowded at the top of the ladder over time no matter what?  What is pay for a level boost needed?

Nineteen Years without Raising the Level Cap

When I started playing TorilMUD… or Sojourn MUD as it was known back then… just after their go-live pwipe, the level cap was 50.

Today, a little more than nineteen years later, the cap for players remains at level 50.

A lot of things have changed.  The D&D rule set being modeled has moved from 2.0 (THAC0) to 4.0 (D20 simplification). Races have been added.  Classes have been reworked and, in some cases, removed. (A moment to remember lost monks, mercenaries, and berserkers.)  Zones have been added at a steady rate over time causing the room count to swell over time.

But in all that time they have never added a single level.  Level 50 remains the pinnacle.

Which is odd, when you consider that TorilMUD was such a big influence on EverQuest, which must hold some sort of record for the total number of different expansions they have sold (soon to be 19, plus half a dozen different expansion “roll up” packages), many of which included boosts to the level cap (which started at 50 and will soon reside at 100) or added in alternative level progression mechanics (primarily alternate advancement).

And EverQuest itself is the template on which your typical PvE fantasy MMORPG is based.  So clearly EverQuest got its expansion mojo from some other source… like a desire for more box sales.

But how has TorilMUD managed this over the last 19 years?

Awkwardly would be my reaction.

TorilMUD was not one of those MUDs where you got special powers or access upon hitting level 50.  You were still a just a player and your only real game option was to conquer content and acquire loot.  So the staff had to come up with methods to keep people engaged and playing.

Some of that was done in ways you will recognize, in ways that MMOs with many expansions use when they want to do another expansion but not raise the level cap.  They have, as noted above, added new races and reworked classes to make them more viable.  (Though nothing has ever made rangers really useful for long.) And they have trimmed back some of the less useful classes. (Mercenaries really were just half-assed warriors with a backstab skill.)  They have also added new low level areas to make bringing up an alt a different experience.

But primary way of keeping people playing without raising the level cap has been the carrot and stick approach, which was used quite liberally with players sitting at level 50.

The carrot comes in the form of new content.  New zones to run, with new monsters, new themes, new gimmicks (including nakedness), and, of course, shiny new loot.  Lots and lots of new loot.  Getting that one item with the perfect stats for your character and class was something of an obsession in the game.

There was the stick as well.  And it wasn’t so much a stick as the infamous Nerf bat and it was wielded with almost gay abandon, much to the dismay of the players.

In order to keep gear inflation in check, equipment with great stats would almost inevitably be downgraded as new gear came in with new zones.  One of the problems with taking a break from the game was coming back and finding some of your best items had been beaten into submission by the Nerf bat.

Sometimes particular enchants or stats would come in for special attention.  I remember the war on haste.  Items began to creep into the game that with that attribute.  Haste is a spell mages could cast on melee classes that would give them extra attacks in combat.  But it was a very short duration spell.  You had to cast it right before a fight and, of course, you had to have a mage with the spell on hand.  But if a melee class had an item that gave him haste all the time, well who needs a mage!  So haste items like the emerald longsword and the gray suede boots became a requirement for melee classes.

And then out came the Nerf bat and haste was removed and people were left with items that otherwise were generally fair at best. (I remember trading a pair of gray suede boots for a pile of equipment just about a week before the change went in.  I got lucky.)

To this day I remember far more old stats for items that have been hit with the Nerf bat than current stats.

All in all it could be a brutal process, like having a semi-continuous gear reset going on around you.  Gear advancement became something of a treadmill.  If you stopped moving, you would eventually fall off the back.

So I guess I can see why EverQuest, and World of Warcraft in its turn, went with the “increase the level cap” option.  Gear resets still happen.  All that great gear you got is still trivialized in one fell swoop.  But at least you are getting newer and better stuff as opposed to seeing your old stuff literally turned to junk.

Avoiding level cap increases has only been attempted by a couple of otherwise level-based MMORPGs, like Dark Age of Camelot.  And while some have praised them for holding the line, it is tough to tell how successful that approach is commercially with a limited sample set.

Games like Vanguard and Warhammer Online haven’t boosted their level caps, but neither of them were apparently successful enough to warrant any sort of expansion, much less one that included new levels.

Guild Wars also stuck with a level cap of 20, but the business model was clearly one of selling boxes since they also went without a subscription.  Guild Wars 2 has the same business model, though one of the lessons they seemed to draw from the original was that they needed more levels.  I suppose we will see what that really means for expansions when they get their first follow-on box ready for sale.

Meanwhile,  DAoC is pretty quiet these days as I understand it, though I am not sure if 8 years of a static level cap is a big factor in that.

And TorilMUD is still going, but my gear is totally out of date.

Things You Might Not Want to See Just as You Hit Level Cap

As a reward for completing a project this week, we were let out of work early today.  Half day Friday!

Rather than doing anything useful or productive or simply going outside where it is sunny and a pleasant 70 degrees, I went home, made some lunch, and started playing video games.  Go me!

I checked out the new stuff in World of Tanks, which I let patch last night, and entered my code for the Golden Joystick Award prize.  Then I queued up a new skill in EVE Online.  And, finally, I settled down for some Rift.  Hillmar was close to 50 and I figured I could finish that off.  Earl was on as well.  He is in the Sandy disaster zone and has no power.  However he has a generator, and internet connection, and nothing to do, so he was cranking out a couple level 50s on his own.

As it was, the instant adventures running in Meridian were extremely lucrative in exp and I soaked up nearly half a level in pretty short order.  Hillmar hit level 50, this finishing off my goal of having one level 50 character in each of the four classes in Rift.

Four Level 50s… and Nehru

So, again, go me.  All ready for Storm Legion with about 80 planar attunement points for each… which isn’t a lot, but is enough to get what I want.

Then, just as I am running off to train, a system message shows up in chat.

Uh?  Erm?

I have no idea what that was about.  I suspect it is something temporary for the “come back to Rift” free weekend.  Or something involving the beta.  Or a mistake.  I really do not know.

It just isn’t the first thing you really want to see when you hit level cap.  Made it to level 50 did you?  Well, we’re handing that out free today!

Accidental Instant Adventure

After finally hitting level 50 in Rift last week, I was set to try and answer the eternal question of those at level cap, “What now?”

I ran out to Ember Isle for a bit, just to see it.  As predicted, being modestly geared with mostly green quest reward items, I got pounded pretty hard.  Most battles ended with my boar pet dead and me having consumed some sort of health supplement in order to survive.  I could kill things and survive, but it was slow and not economically viable.  I should have put an alt into the manufacture of health potions rather than weapons and runes.

I did some PvP battleground… erm, warfront… things.  There is a whole pile of quests to get you pointed in that direction as well as the promise of being able to gear up using Favor, the PvP currency that would be Honor in WoW.  But I have never been a huge fan of battlegrounds (something compounded by the fact that in amongst the veteran and geared up level 50s, I do get one and two shotted an awful lot) and the only one I ended up enjoying much was Black Garden, mostly because it is small and simple enough that I actually think I understand it, making it pretty much the opposite of Port Scion in my view. (I think it is something like Alterac Valley in WoW.)

Black Garden – Nobody uses those side paths

In the end, I decided on zone events as my avenue of adventure.  If enough people jump in, zone events can be fun without becoming the thundering herd of beta that would curb stomp any mob it faced before you could get in two hits.

It’s the tier 1 Telara Beta marathon!

For the most part, enough people do tend to jump in to make the events viable.  With the deck stacked heavily in favor of level 50s in the game by this point, it is much easier to finish up a zone event in Stillmore, Shimmersand, or Iron Pine Peak than any of the mid-level zones.

The timing seems to be such that an event runs in each one of those zones every night at prime time.  I have been able to hit at least one such event successfully almost every night.

And this helps me on my way towards beefing up my rogue.  He has already earned 12 levels of planar attunement and has accumulated a pile of inscribed sourcestones.  The latter are yet another currency to help you buy upgraded gear.

However, not every event is well attended.  Last night I ran out to an event in Shimmersand only to find myself pretty much alone in fending off the threat.

My usual tactic is to find the public group that becomes the central raid, join it, and follow it around.  That is generally the best use of my meager abilities.  There are a couple of events where I can accomplish things solo, at least until I find that raid group, by picking my battles carefully and not standing in the path of the parade of invasion groups running around the zone.

This was not one of those events, and so I found myself dying while attempting to find any public group working on the event.

Then, finally, I ran close enough to somebody to get the join button at the top of the screen.  Only it said “Join Adventure” rather than “Join Public Group,” but I wasn’t picky at this point.

And so I stumbled, quite by accident, onto the Instant Adventure feature of Rift.

The group consisted of me and one other player, and he clearly did not need me along for the ride.  But after he kicked me once and I rejoined, he tolerated me until I was able to prove I wasn’t totally useless.

Instant Adventure appears to be a chain of quests, each of which centers around a general geographic area in a zone and which finishes up with a boss fight of some sort.  It is like your own personal zone event.  Or your group’s own personal one.

Some of the quest series is always a kill quest for mobs that were there anyway.  But you also spawn some special mobs, participate in events, and, as mentioned, the boss fight or similar end event.  And things scale depending on how big your group is.  Sometimes it is simply a need to kill more of a given mob.  And sometimes things seem to get much tougher, like the end boss.

This can lead to group composition issues.  During my first run with IA, this warrior and I fought a pirate chief and, while it was a tough fight, the result was never in doubt.  Later, in a group of six, with five rogues and a warrior, everybody died at least once and soul walked back into the fight because the boss scaled to a point where we really could have used a healer.  I am going to guess that healers are all off raiding or doing expert dungeon while IA has become the domain of the disenfranchised DPS players looking to gear up.

That is certainly why I am there, because the payout for IA includes inscribed sourcestone, one of the currencies for welfare epics in Rift.  And between zone events, my first few runs with IA, and my obsessive attention to the Lootables scratcher game in the Rift Mobile App, I had earned enough of these to buy a bow that was a serious upgrade over the level 50 blue bow that my weaponsmith alt had made for me.

Only, as in all things, there was a catch.  I could afford the inscribed sourcestone price for the bow that was a serious upgrade.  There was a second aspect to the price.  The bow I wanted was in the second tier, and to get that you must buy and trade in the first tier bow.  I did not have enough sourcestones for that, and the first tier bow was, at best, when looked at through squinted eyes, a very mild upgrade to my current bow.

But, I want that next bow, so I bought it.  Now I need another 90 sourcestones to get the bow I want.  That means more zone events, more Rift Mobile scratchers, and certainly more Instant Adventure.

At least I got an achievement.

Out on an Instant Adventure

Rift achievements aren’t quite as shiny as WoW achievements, but they are close and a still head and shoulders above other competitors in presentation and content.

Fifty – Not Just Another Level in Telara

With the announcement of the upcoming Rift expansion, Storm Legion, I thought it might be time to get a character to level cap in the game so that should I buy it and want to play, I would be ready… unlike with all those LOTRO expansions I own.  I’ve only ever been to Moria.  But that is a subject for another post.

Fortunately this was a pretty easy task to accomplish.  I have had a rogue sitting at level 49.8 for a few months.  I never could quite build up the enthusiasm to push him that last 20% of a level to get to 50.  I have hit level cap in enough games for there mere act of getting there not to be much of a thrill, and end-game pursuits have never really been my cup of tea.

But, with an expansion coming, the balance was tipped.  I figured it would be my only chance to see what one can do at level 50, since once you tack on another 10 levels, all that previously end-game content gets bypassed.  Such content becomes Wintergrasp after Cataclysm; once a popular event, now a distraction pursued by a few die hards and the curious.

So I ran out to Stillmore, the last zone I had been working on with my rogue Teresten (I “still” had “more” to do… who names these zones?), to find a zone event just kicking off.  That was a good thing, since it saved me the trouble of trying to pick up where I had left off.  I joined the first public group I could find, which became the main raid group, and we ran around stomping out rifts and slaying bad guys.

Along the way, the moment came, and I hit level 50.

The moment!

Now if you don’t play Rift, that “Level Up” message might look pretty impressive.  To put that in perspective, I get a similar size message, only in green, when I grab a quest which says, “Quest Accepted.”  So I have seen the big text 48 times already, it is the achievement at the bottom that is the difference… in that is says 50, rather that 40, 30, 20, or 10.

Rift is big on celebrating every moment, which is a good thing.  I remember in LOTRO when it used to just say something like “your level has changed” in you chat window.

I went on with the event, which was a success.  Since Stillmore events are for level 50s, it draws a crowd from the top heavy player base.  I got a pile of things that added 10,000 points to my planar attunement, which I noticed advanced my still visible and working experience bar when I used them.

I also had an in-game mail waiting for me.  “Probably some congratulations message from the faction leader,” I thought.  It was, sort of, though it was a little garbled at the end.

Since this might spoil things for you if you have not made it to level 50 in Rift, I am going to put this all after a cut, so you’ll only have yourself to blame if I ruin the surprise.

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