When you start up your first character in a new MMO, it’s all fresh and novel. But if you’re the sort of tedious weirdo who makes a lot of alts (and for the record, my hand is up here), you probably have other things on your mind when you make your seventh alt. Or your 29th. Point being that it’s increasingly hard to find new ways to level in a game that are in some way different from what you’ve already done?
The solution? No, the solution isn’t to stop making alts, don’t be silly. The solution is challenges. Yes, challenges, the great path to ensuring that the game stays fresh and novel for you as you level through similar content yet again. So let’s take a look at some common ways to keep your leveling experience mixed up. You know, because we figure a lot of people could use a new way to experience old content right about now.
Ah, the classic. If you die even once, for any reason, your character ceases to be. The challenge is over, delete your character. (Or just keep playing and accept you failed; no one but you is keeping track.) This is an easy challenge to understand, but depending on the game it can be a difficult one to actually do; it means you want to be able to really plan your play ahead of time, be very cautious, and avoid taking risks. And only play with a very good connection, I suppose.
Of course, some games already have this anyhow, so you have to go a bit further. Which is when you get into…
2. No killing
In some games, like Glitch, this isn’t a challenge at all; it’s how you play the game in the first place. But most MMOs include killing of some variety. Yes, the fiction of City of Heroes holds that you’re just knocking out criminals for arrest, but the point remains the same, you’re killing some dudes. None of that.
Obviously, this only works in games wherein you can get experience without killing anything; World of Warcraft, for example, offers you experience for gathering and exploring. Get used to that while you play, and be patient.
3. Equipment restrictions
Again, how much of a challenge this is will depend a lot on the game, and the definition of what you’re avoiding here varies as well. Using only vendor items in Final Fantasy XIV still gives you tons of options, for example. But saying that you won’t use any items in WoW outside of white and gray gear? That’s going to be a challenge in and of itself.
You can also iterate on this in other ways; for example, still using WoW, you can’t use quest rewards and you can’t use any gear that doesn’t drop for you. That’s going to incentivize a very different playstyle right away.
4. Willfully broken abilities
How high can you level in Final Fantasy XI without a subjob? Pretty high, even though it means willingly missing out on a lot of expected abilities along the way. In WoW Classic, you can easily opt to play a melee hunter or a DPS Holy Priest. The game lets you get away with these things, and you’re going to do your best to go with it.
There are two variants on this, to be fair. The first is not using upgrades you’d have available to you, like never picking any talents in WoW, which just means less power. The other is willfully choosing something that’s sub-par or broken and trying to make it as useful as possible.
5. All (content type)
This one I’ve actually done myself; I had a character in Star Wars: The Old Republic who leveled solely through the game’s space missions. It wasn’t a great option in the broader sense, but it did provide a different leveling experience all the way through. But you could also do only PvP, or only dungeons, or no dungeons, or anything along those lines.
6. Strong themes
Thus far, all of the options I’ve discussed have specifically been mechanical limits. But you can also give yourself thematic limits instead. Case in point, you could declare that you’re an ice mage in FFXIV. You won’t use non-Ice spells. There’s no way to avoid learning other spells, but you can still keep that thematic side going if you want.
Although… you really shouldn’t do that if you’re going to be in a party with other people. They’re not a part of your challenge. Accept that your thematic limitations are a challenge for you, not a misery you should inflict upon other people.
7. No quests
This is similar to the specific content limitation, but it’s more of a prohibition. You can’t do quests. And keep in mind that in some games, that means limiting yourself a lot in terms of where you can go and what sort of content is available to you. Heck, in some games this makes playing literally impossible; in others, it just means you can never get certain things, access to some areas, and so on.
8. Ability use rules
Isn’t this just thematics again? Technically it can be, yes… but sometimes you can get more creative with it. For example, you could specifically stock up on certain items and only be allowed to use certain abilities while under the effects of certain items, or you can only play for as long as a food effect lasts, and if it wears out mid-fight you have to just let yourself die.
Another potentially fun one that sometimes work is only letting yourself use any given ability once per fight, or telling yourself that you can only access certain abilities with certain weapons or in certain zones. It makes things slower, but it changes how you approach fights.
Wait, doesn’t this make your life easier? Theoretically, sure, it means that you’re playing multiple parts of the same group. But in practice it is a challenge, because the faster-based the actual game is the more you’re expected to be doing something at all times. And keep in mind that we’re talking about doing this without any automated tools; in this scenario you’re responsible for just playing multiple accounts at the same time.
Obviously, this means you’re not going to be playing at your best. Equally obvious, though, is that it gives you a new set of challenges to overcome as you do so while also allowing you to combine the assets of two separate accounts. It’s a deceptive little challenge.
10. Combining challenges
Of course, the key to what makes challenges nifty is that they’re not shrink-wrapped and determined specifically. Want to get all your experience by gathering but add in permadeath? You can do that. All PvP leveling with no non-found gear? Sure, that’ll work. The classic Ironman challenge in WoW takes from several of these listed challenges to give you a very different experience of playing the game as a whole.
And hey, that’s half the fun of challenges. Think to yourself of what would be odd or difficult to do, then set out and do it. It beats running the same dungeons again, right?