What would you think about a game with no/very few levels?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by GammaVector, Feb 15, 2014.

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Would it bother you if the party never leveled up?

  1. It would bother me - having a level system is standard for a reason.

    8.3%
  2. As long as there's other ways to see my characters getting stronger, I wouldn't mind.

    54.2%
  3. If the story doesn't call for the characters to get stronger, I wouldn't mind.

    29.2%
  4. I would love a game with no levels! I hate grinding.

    8.3%
  1. GammaVector

    GammaVector Veteran Veteran

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    So, in the game I'm currently working on, I find myself at a crossroads.  Levels.  I'm inclined to do away with them entirely.  Let me explain:

    The protagonist of the game is a thousand-year-old witch straight out of legend.  The antagonist is as well.  The other party members are normal humans, but all of them are highly skilled in their chosen fields.  Basically, for story purposes, these people might as well be the medieval Avengers.  The game is relatively short, and very, very character-driven.  Finding out the characters' backstories and exploring how they all got tangled up in the mess their currently in is what I'm hoping the player will be most interested in.

    As for the actual plot, it's relatively simple.  The antagonist is doing a Bad Thing, and our heroes are trying to stop them.  There is no, "HAHA YOU'LL NEVER BE STRONG ENOUGH TO DEFEAT ME~" moment, no we-must-assemble-the-macguffins-of-strength-to-have-a-hope-against-this-foe.  The heroes could defeat the villain from the outset.  The trouble is catching her.  The villain spends most of the game two steps ahead of the heroes, and much of the plot is involved with trying to figure out what the hell she's actually trying to do (and then how to head her off).  Once that happens, there are a couple moments of "Haha, you can either fight me, or you can save these innocent kittens. I am clearly getting away scott free."

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, I can't justify in the story the heroes getting much stronger over the course of the plot.

    Now, that's not to say they don't learn a few new tricks on the road.  The way I've got it going, our witch protagonist is under a nasty curse which severely limits her power (and conveniently puts her on about the same level as the normal humans she's running with).  At the start of the third act, she loses the curse and gets a huge MP boost.  Gameplay wise, there are a couple of spells which the player wouldn't have had nearly enough mana for until then, that he can suddenly perform (albeit only once before running out of magic).  The swordsmen pick up new tricks from talking to other, geographically distant swordsmen of their caliber.  The healer develops a counter for a previously-unknown (or rather, forgotten) curse used by the antagonist.  You meet a master smith at one point who forges you some new weapons and armor.  One of your mages can learn to enchant it (they don't start off very good at it - but with practice they'll get a lot better).  Ancient magical artifacts, most of which still work, are found while chasing the villain.  A mage in another city can (given time and money) repair the artifacts that don't work.  Raiding the villain's lair gives access to her research notes, giving your main protagonist a couple of new curses, and giving the party some plans for artifacts to take back to the previously-mentioned repair-mage.

    As for enemies, I'm trying to make them logical.  The giant spiders in the forest?  You can one-shot them from the beginning.  They're no threat at all.  The only thing that makes them a problem is their sheer numbers.  You have no healer yet at that point in the game, and you're probably not rolling in gold to spend on potions.  So you have to think carefully and try to sneak by a lot of encounters, or wait to explore the forest thoroughly until you have a healer. You can't just run around as you please.

    The demons attacking that town?  Yeah, it's a good thing there's only a handful of them, because they're hella tough.  Figure out their weak points now, because you're going to have to deal with a lot more of them when you invade the villain's lair.  Of course, her research notes will provide you with some tips.

    Areas that are infested with monsters (like the above-mentioned forest) require planning to navigate safely.  You can't just level grind and come back later, so it forces the player to think about what they're doing.

    Of course, balance is going to be very, very important with this system.  But, if it's balanced well and you're not just spamming one skill forever, what would you think about such a system?  Do you think it would be too boring?  Or, combined with the fact that there's not a huge amount of combat to be had, do you think it would be refreshing to not have to worry about levels?
     
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  2. Makio-Kuta

    Makio-Kuta Canadian Goose Veteran

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    I've played a few games with no levels (and the halloween flop/bash games Rach and I made had no levels) and it's certainly not a bad way to go as long as the characters still experience some sort of growth (be it through equipment or other means) but! By the sounds of it, you've already worked out ways to implement that! So that's great.

    The only other thing I could think of with a system like this is--make sure the game doesn't give off the illusion that there are levels to be gained. Either take the level display off the screen or really drive the point home of their experience by setting them at max level. Make sure you aren't giving out experience at the end of battle -set all the enemies at 0exp-

    If I open my menu and see LV1 next to a characters stats I'm going to instantly assume that I can level them up. And then I'll be cranky when I can't. If I see 500exp listed after battle I'm going to be given a false impression once again.

    Maybe that's a personal pet peeve! But I think it is important to be clear to the player that levels are not an aspect in the game.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 16, 2014
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  3. GammaVector

    GammaVector Veteran Veteran

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    I agree that it would be terrible design to have "LV 1" and "500 XP recieved!" showing up everywhere, but not actually USE the level system. I've taken the thing out more or less entirely. Enemies all give 0xp, and there's no mention of level anywhere in the menu.


    Although I like your idea of setting everyone to max level from the start of the game. I'll have to think about that. It would help to reinforce how strong the party is, that's for sure.
     
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  4. omen613

    omen613 Veteran Veteran

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    So from the sound of your spider forest example...getting attacked by non story related foes...is a punishment for getting seen/caught? Because if they enemies give no real reward from defeating them, then they are just speed bumps. Not saying thats a bad thing tho
     
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  5. gcook725

    gcook725 Veteran Veteran

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    omen613 has a point. If I remember right there were some complaints about Paper Mario Sticker Star's lack of a leveling system. The only real incentive to combat in it was to get enemies out of the way and earn enough cash to get more stickers (abilities and attacks) to... fight... more?

    There wasn't much of a semblance of growth in the game, and if there aren't level ups in the traditional sense then there should be some other way to feel like you're gaining powerful. In Metroid, Samus gets upgrades and expansions to her ammo and health. In Zelda, Link gains more health and items (abilities) as the game goes on.

    Neither have traditional leveling systems, but they do have some sense of advancement. They get around the lack of exp bonuses by having enemies reward the player in different ways, usually in health and ammo pick ups and money in Zelda's case.
     
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  6. GammaVector

    GammaVector Veteran Veteran

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    Ah, I should have been more clear. There's treasure hidden in that forest. You can avoid the spiders if you want, but fighting them yields loot. Not gold, but things like spider venom which you can either make into poisons (that work on bosses and story-related enemies as well as vermin) or sell for gold. Wolves drop pelts which you can take into town and either sell outright, or you can commission armor and get a discount for bringing your own materials (if it's something like a fur cloak. Plate armor doesn't care if you bring wolf pelts). Health and stats can be permanently increased by the use of special potions which one of your characters can make. How to get the ingredients? Well, some of them grow in forests or caves. Others are animal products which enemies drop. And a couple of things are only produced in and found in monster camps, so you'll have to raid one to get any.


    Most enemy encounters drop something that you can either sell, or use to make something you can sell. Bandits and other human enemies drop gold outright. So even if you don't need any equipment or potions, there's still a reward for fighting. But more of the reward is for exploring, and I'll admit that a lot of enemies are speedbumps for that. But hey, that rare crystal that's only found in a monster-infested cave is also a reward, right?
     
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  7. CWells

    CWells Storyteller/Artist Veteran

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    One way that can work is if you just flatten defenses in combat. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne has a really slow very carefully tight combat system in regards to leveling and getting stronger. And it seems to do away with defense or MDF stats. It just relies on health and levels. There are spells said to "increase defense" but in truth, it is just using the levels or some other mechanic to help you block some damage. When I think of levels, I think about defense vs attack. When leveling to get stronger, a player expects that whatever they specialize in, they will even become more skilled at it. Something tells me I'm not typing this right but I think you get me. It's all good if you don't want to use levels. So long as I get to play with cool equipment for more power?
     
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  8. Azahoth

    Azahoth Villager Member

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    Actually this site has sample game(Knight Blade) on the main page that I personally found enjoyable and doesn't use levels. I think if you decide not to use a level system  it would be wise to remove the remnants of the system from game menus and other scenes or use levels as a variable for some other feature such as threat, fame, renown etc . Ultimately the only way to know for certain is to implement and iterate and change based on what appeals to you.
     
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