Flameseeker Chronicles: Should Guild Wars 2 delete leveling?

    
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Leveling is one of those things that you just have to have to count as an RPG, right? It’s expected. At this point, the concept of XP and levels has pervaded virtually every genre of games, from shooter to strategy. You may even encounter it at your job if you have a supervisor who’s into gamification of work. But why? If the game really “starts” at cap, isn’t everything in between just a big time sink, especially in a game like Guild Wars 2 where your level scales to the zone you’re in and level progression is only loosely tied to zone and story progression?

Recently in the Massively office chat, one of our writers was musing that he found it problematic that Guild Wars 2 built hype by advertising elite specializations, essentially an endgame prestige class that new players won’t have access to right away. I think that those of us who play Guild Wars 2 on the regular were a little taken aback by this because GW2 has some of the easiest, shortest leveling games of any major MMO. Leveling 1-80 in Guild Wars 2 isn’t like leveling 1-80 in, say, The Lord of the Rings Online. It could be done in a week — two tops — without boosters at a perfectly reasonable pace. What’s more, the game gives out free levels, XP scrolls, and boosters like candy; I have stacks and stacks of them in my bank, and not from a lack of alts either. All you have to do is log in and maybe do some dailies.

That got me thinking. Since leveling is such a low hurdle in Guild Wars 2, why have it at all? Why not just delete leveling, and let players start working on their elite spec right away? Why force them to first put points into base game trait and skill lines they’re never going to use? After all, there have been several classes — like the Engineer — that I wasn’t a big fan of until an elite spec was added that clicked with me. I know I’m not alone in this. If I were a more casual player, would I have bothered leveling an Engi? If I hadn’t, I would never have tried the Holosmith elite spec and would have missed out on one of my favorite playstyles.

However, it’s not like getting all of those trait lines and slot skills is wasted effort. You will still need two trait lines from your base class, and only rarely have I seen a good build that did not include at least a couple of base class slot skills. Similarly, even if you opt to use the new weapon that your elite spec unlocks — and there’s a chance you won’t be, as they don’t always match up with every way of playing every elite spec — you are almost certain to be using at least some weapons from your base class on at least one of your bars, so familiarizing yourself with those is a good thing as well.

Perhaps most importantly, I’m not sure that elite specs will mean anything to true newbies if they haven’t first spent a decent amount of time with their base class. For instance, the implications of the Scourge removing the Necromancer’s Shroud has no meaning if you’ve never played a core Necromancer. To look at it another way, all of the elite specs of a single class share most of the same mechanics, but elite specs put their own unique twist on them. Part of the beauty of elite specs is that this common language allows you to switch elite specs more easily, but if players have never played the core class and only played an elite spec, they are going to have a harder time moving between builds and elite specs for the same class.

In essence, the 1-80 leveling grind is a way to force new players to get to know their character before giving them the more interesting choices.

I think there is this perception that elite specs are like whole classes unto themselves. I’ll admit, I bet if you dug through past articles, you could even find me slipping up and calling an elite spec a class somewhere. But it’s not really true. Yes, some elite specs shake up their class an awful lot, much more than switching from DPS spec to tank spec in your average MMO, but the changes are much less drastic than, say, switching jobs in Final Fantasy XIV. They’re something unique in the middle. Elite specs are simply elite specs.

If you’re a longtime player sitting there thinking, “Whatever, I don’t have a hard time picking up new elite specs’ mechanics,” remember that if you started playing this game in the first three years or so, you likely spent far more time learning your base class than someone who comes into the game for the first time today. I think it’s easy to forget that.

Then there’s the fact that, as I alluded to earlier, Guild Wars 2 already has basically deleted leveling for veteran players. My bank is full to bursting with hundreds of XP boosters and instant level/XP scrolls, most of which come from just logging in or doing dailies. And from character birthdays, I have a small pile of level boosting scrolls as high as 60. Expansions each come with a character slot and an insta-80, which even includes gear. I haven’t actually leveled a character from 1 to 80 in years unless it was to level with someone new.

Besides, if you start following this line of thinking too far, you fall into a black hole of existential crises very quickly. It’s not that hard to get to level cap, so why bother making me do it? It’s not that hard to get endgame gear, so why not just hand it to me? It’s not that hard to finish fractals, so why do them at all? It’s not that hard to play this game, so why play it at all? Wait, I like playing this game… don’t I? Do I actually like this game, or are my actions being governed by the dopamine hit that comes with hitting new levels, getting new gear, finishing the story? Why do I do any of the things I’m doing? Why are any of us here???

… and it just spirals from there.

In an ideal world, I think Guild Wars 2 would delete leveling… but only if you have already done that leveling. In other words, I think the most ideal thing would be that if you’ve already leveled a class to 80, then want to make an alt of that same class, you should have the option to skip straight to cap. In a lot of ways, it has already done so, but it would be nice if it would go all in.

But then, how would they sell insta-80 boosters in the cash shop? (How many of those do they even sell? I don’t know anyone who has ever used one, other than the free ones with expansions.)

That said, revamping leveling is probably more work than it’s worth. What we have now works just fine. It’s slightly clunky, and maybe it scares off some people who don’t realize how easy it is, but it’s not so bad. There are a lot of other things in this game that I would fix first.

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!
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