Learning and Leveling Curves

I have been playing Everquest again for a few days now, and only for an hour or two at a time. It’s like a return into your home town. You know all the places, but most of it just doesn’t look right. That’s why the user interface feels so clumsy for the first few hours, but it becomes familiar again after a while. But not without wondering how much MMO interface design has evolved over time. There’s a reason everything is called a WOW clone: A good interface begs to be copied.

Something else feels awkward about the game: Myself. I’ve gotten my beastlord to level 12 and was sent to Blackburrow for some quest. Fun, fun, fun! I’ve spend a lot of time there in the past and I know the place well. However, I got myself into trouble when for some reason I had something like 6 gnolls on me, with more joining later. I had completely forgotten how aggro works in EQ, lulled into safety by some passive grey-con mobs. If I want to continue playing this game, I have to put in a good amount of time, to get these issues figured out and have them become second nature again.

All this made me think about the learning curve in MMOs. I’ve trained most of my MMO skills in Everquest. I learned about the need to pull in the Field of Bones. I learned crowd control in Solusek Ro and Karnor’s. Swarm kiting was all the rage back then, which I learned in Mayden’s Eye. In other games, different skills are required, like finding a rotation and priority lists or selecting the right companion for every occasion in SWTOR. And of course different classes require an entirely different set of training as well.

Players learn their classes as they level. Usually, the game becomes more challenging the higher the level requirements are and new techniques need to be found and deployed to master the content. All of a sudden, resistances are needed, characters have to move away from area damage, deal with a fully choreographed encounter.

In the end, the leveling process in an MMO is a big learning process as well. At the level cap, players will have learned to deal with a multitude of situations happening within a game. But now what? Is there still some challenge left? Can the endgame keep the interest of players who love to expand their skills? Or does the game stop right there, at least for some of us, it does.


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