MMORPGs are based around characters that advance in some form, and become more powerful. There are two methods that are commonly used for this progression: Levels and Skills. Characters will progress by either gainin a level, or by acquiring skills. There are benefits and consequences of either system, and I will be going in depth with each system, as well as some specific examples.
The Levelling system is a tried and true method of progression. It makes limiting equipment and balancing PVP easy. For the developer, it is easy to use and for the players there is something rewarding about “dinging” the next level. A big downside is that it is easy to tell whether you are more powerful than another individual or mob. There is less challenge in this game, as a good amount of the mechanics are visibly on the table. The level system plays like a computer game. (For our purposes, I’m including the class system as part of the level system)
A Skills based system is something different. There are many ways to use a skill system, but several things are constant. First, skills systems are hard to balance and usually there are skill sets and combinations that are more powerful than were intended. It is also hard to tell the difference between a character with a lot of skills and another character with none, and it is also difficult to see mob strength. The Skill system feels more real and lifelike.
My next few blog posts will be looking at specific examples of these systems, and the benefits and effects. I will also be examining one of my favorite examples, Star Wars Galaxies, which went from an established skill system with some semblance of balance, to a class and level system. Though the class and level system was poorly implemented, the current mechanics and the results show the variance between these systems.