Ding! I just love to level. One of the reasons why role playing games are among my favourite gaming genres is that the absolute majority (or should I say all?) have an experience system. You gain experience for most of the actions you perform and when you get enough of it your character advances to the next level. With leveling come the rewards. New and increasingly powerful spells/skills, the ability to use new weapon or armour types, additional perks and talents, access to higher level areas etc etc. This system really appeals to me because:
- It’s very casual friendly. It is this mechanic which makes almost everything you do in an rpg meaningful. Played for a few minutes and killed a couple of monsters? You gain xp. Not enough to get to next level but it all adds up. This is true up to level cap of course. Once you hit the cap the xp mechanic becomes obsolete and the only way to advance your character is to get better gear. There are workarounds to this of course (all of which involve variations on the xp theme) but this is a different subject for another post.
- You can play the game at your own pace by grinding some xp to make your character more powerful. Found a particularly difficult area? No worries. Just grind monsters you can manage for a bit to gain a couple of levels. Then go back to where you were previously and show them who’s boss. Conversely if you want a bit of a challenge because you are the masochist type go questing in an area where you are under level. Some games, particularly jrpgs (harumph Dragon Quest VIII!!!!), force you to grind at some points in order to properly progress.
- It’s easier to quantify your progress. Let’s say you are playing a skill based game such as Trials HD. With each attempt you get one of two outcomes. You either succeed in beating the best time or you don’t. Spend a day doing the same thing and at the end of the day your best time is all you have to show for it. Spend a day playing a game with a leveling mechanic and you probably gained a few levels. Your avatar has improved overall. Realistically though, a day of playing Trials HD still netted you experience, even if it is not explicitly demonstrated in the game. You are probably much better at playing the game then you were when you initially started but your improvement cannot really be quantified except for the time shaved off each race.
It is these qualities which usually make rpgs less about skill and more about time invested. Obviously there are exceptions to this. Dark Souls is a notable example and its success in mixing skill based gameplay with classic rpg mechanics possibly contributed to the game’s popularity. It’s also one of the reasons I did not play it yet. As I’ve grown older I find myself leaning more towards games based on xp for progression rather than those reliant on skill. Maybe it’s because I suck at games? If you play badly you can still reach max level in most games. The fact that I get some measure of progression despite my performance reduces the impetus to improve on my game. Still, I just find them more relaxing. Frustration is something I can do without after a long day at work and it’s good to have a sense of progression, even though the numbers might be hiding deficiencies in my game playing abilities. After all games are meant to be a break from the grim truths of reality, aren’t they?