01/10/2015

Level Syncing! So Much Love!

Apparently yesterday another much-hyped developer livestream took place - which I missed of course, because livestreams and I generally don't get on. Even if we did though, SWTOR's pretty much always take place in the middle of the night in my time zone, and I don't have the luxury of staying up until silly o'clock on a weekday anymore. Fortunately sites like Dulfy are always nice enough to provide summaries of these things. Apparently there is a lot of new information to digest, which I will still have to think about, but there's one thing that jumped out at me above all others when I first read about it on Werit's blog: level syncing.

Indeed, level scaling won't just be a thing in warzones, flashpoints and operations anymore, but also on planets (a.k.a. "out in the open world"). You will automatically be downlevelled to the highest "appropriate" level for any planet you visit (though you won't lose any higher-level abilities). So if you go to Coruscant for example, nobody will be higher than level eighteen.

I can't tell you guys how happy I am about this change. I was honestly happier and more excited when I read about this than I was even about the expansion announcement itself. There are just so many ways that immediately come to mind in which this change is going to be awesome.

First off, it just makes so much more sense. Levels should make you more powerful, yes, but not as powerful as they currently do. I doesn't make sense that the blaster of a random thug on Rishi can hurt me, while I can have twenty random thugs shooting me on Coruscant and they can't even hit me. Neither should my character be able to face-tank a killer droid the size of a house just because it's only level thirty. I enjoy feeling like I'm part of an immersive and consistent world, and sadly we live in an age where this is valued less and less by game developers and gamers alike. Instead making things more convenient and "gamey" is often prioritised above all else. So I love seeing Bioware make a change like this - though there are gameplay benefits to enforced level syncing as well.


Solo-grinding low-level heroics - soon a thing of the past. And I'm OK with it!

(I'd like to note that I've never disliked levels the way some people do. I "grew up" in World of Warcraft, and becoming more and more godlike as you went up in levels - compared to the mobs in the zones you left behind - was just part of the natural order of things. However, even things that I've liked and accepted in the past can be improved upon.)

I like the idea of world bosses becoming a genuine threat again. At the moment they can pretty much be split into two categories: those that people can and do solo at max level and those that nobody bothers with because they still require at least a small group. I'm already day-dreaming about taking my guildies on world boss raids on planets like Coruscant and Taris... though admittedly, we'll first have to see whether the new reward structure holds up as well. People won't want to organise a down-levelled operation just to get a level twenty chest piece as a reward.

Finally, characters of all levels will be able to meaningfully group up for content out in the open world. No more rolling an alt just to play with your lowbie friends or worrying about outlevelling them! (Well, you can still do it I suppose, but you won't have to.) Negative player interaction will also be reduced, because there'll be no more open world ganking (in the sense of a high level player one-shotting lowbies). Goodness all around!

Now, I admit that there'll be downsides: There will be no truly "safe" planets anymore, so if you just want to hop over to that particular corner on Alderaan for some screenshots of the scenery, you'll have to deal with the mobs on the way like anyone else. And of course outlevelling things until you can solo them will be a thing of the past, which also means no more "boosting" lowbies through more difficult content on your higher-level character. I know that for some people this will sting (some of my readers/commenters for one) and I do sympathise somewhat, but... to be honest, this expansion is also introducing some changes that aren't really my cup of tea, so I kinda feel like I've earned the right to an announcement that I'm allowed to be unabashedly happy about. The downsides don't affect me, so... whee! (Though I do bet that there'll probably a moment at some point in the future where I'll go: "Damn, I remember when I could solo this, why does it require so much more effort right now?" But that's just the way we always find something to whine about.)

We'll see how well the implementation of this planet-wide level syncing will work out in practice. People have already brought up a number of cases where it's unclear how (well) the scaling will work. Alderaan has a bonus series for example that is ten levels higher than the rest of the planet, does that mean that the cap will be forty-something for everyone or will it vary by area? What about various class quests that send you back to lowbie planets at higher level? What about world events like Bounty Contract Week, where you spawn mobs based on your own level? I'll be positively surprised if Bioware doesn't manage to screw at least a couple of these things up on day one, but I feel that their past experience with the bolster mechanic has given them a solid grasp on how level scaling should work in principle, so I trust that they will get there eventually.

I've heard that the announcement of this feature has been "contentious", but so far I've seen more positive than negative reactions. (Might be my bias clouding my view however.) What do others think? I'd also be interested in the opinions of those who have played other games that enforce level syncing. (I know that Guild Wars 2 does it, and I think Final Fantasy XIV does as well, though that one also takes your higher-level abilities away if I recall correctly.) I rarely see people talk about it as a negative thing, yet I always see a lot of positive mentions.

9 comments :

  1. WELCOME TO THE 21ST CENTURY MMO CLUB SWTOR! Games that aren't new-friend friendly bug me. I don't want to re-level just because I got a new friend to play. I think this is a great move for SWTOR. It's one of the things I love most about GSF.

    In Guild Wars 2, you sync to the zone level. You can't be a god at level 80 and smash stuff into oblivion with your auto-attack in a level 20 zone. At level 80 with gear, you are however a demi-god. Swarms of low level mobs aren't trivial, but a half dozen or so will make you break a sweat. IMO, a good system.

    Wildstar has arguably the best system. You level down only when you join a party with a lower level player. You also have the option of staying at your level too. The flexibility is really nice. You have options to power level your pals, or just play normally alongside them. Whatever strikes your fancy!

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    1. It's definitely a pretty standard feature in many newer games, isn't it? I know it's one of those things that I've looked at with a bit of envy in the past, thinking: "I wish SWTOR would steal that." I just didn't think they would actually do it! Kind of makes you wonder what other major changes they might still be willing to make...

      I don't think that making level syncing voluntary is objectively better, just different. Yes, giving players choices is nice, but at the same time things like high-level players soloing world bosses would continue, and no lowbie group would ever find them alive. There are definitely also benefits to (literally) making sure that everyone's on the same level.

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  2. I was nervous about how the syncing would be implemented, but I'm shockingly okay with how it's being handled. Actually, more than 'okay.' I'm completely excited about not only the syncing, but also the way they're handling heroic missions (with the transports), the removal of weekly caps for commendations (I mean crystals), and they syncing fits in there nicely!

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    1. This comment doesn't contain enough excitement in the form of exclamation marks and caps, but your own post about the changes made up for it. ;)

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    2. Yeah, when I replied, I hadn't done the column yet. And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Then I lost my mind in blogpost form. Ya know, usual Friday stuff at the ol' Targeter household. I'm just so stoked about the changes!

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  3. I have mixed feelings about the level syncing, since I'm - honestly - not that great a player and there have been things I've been unable to do without either overleveling or getting help. (Yes, yes, MMO, supposed to be social, etc. But I really don't like being forced to group.)

    On the other hand, I also play GW2, and for the most part, I like the level syncing there. (With the exception of a few things that, again, I simply could never do without help.)

    But that's really more a matter of games having a little trouble pulling off a consistent difficulty level. There really shouldn't be missions/quests that stand out because they are bizarrely harder than everything before and after them.

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    1. I think overlevelling things will still be a valid tactic to deal with tough content, just not to the extent it is right now.

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  4. As another casual player who's not so great at the game, I am also concerned about this. I don't have my rotations optimized, and don't keep my gear up as much as I could, so sometimes I struggle with the class missions, especially the chapter enders. We'll see, but if I can't continue to level around the problem it's going to be an issue for me.

    Also, I don't know personally about GW2, but I believe it is a game that doesn't do the strict trinity like SWTOR, so I don't know how that affects the level syncing. But SWTOR has the companions too, so maybe it matters less.

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    1. I think the changes to companions will result in a pretty big buff for levelling players. Mine always became pathetically useless after a few levels cause I couldn't be bothered to keep gearing them on top of my actual character... and it showed in fights after a while.

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