17/05/2020

Somebody Stop This XP Train, I Wanna Get Off

I have a long history of moaning about XP bonuses on this blog, starting with this post from March 2013 when I scoffed at Bioware holding SWTOR's first ever double XP event in the run-up to Rise of the Hutt Cartel. I also know that I'm very much in the minority with this negative attitude towards XP bonuses, but to put it simply: I liked the game's levelling speed just fine at launch. That there's been a constant push to make levelling faster ever since just hasn't been a positive change for me.


Knights of the Fallen Empire in particular permanently increased levelling speed by several magnitudes, but then that expansion also introduced level sync, which I loved, so I guess they balanced each other out. I've just come to accept that I'm pretty much always going to be over-levelled for everything these days and level sync will just have to take care of the worst of the side effects. As for special double XP events, Bioware added the White Acute Module as an option to allow people to disable those boosts, and that was good enough for me too.

Going on a month of the current double XP event though, I've been starting to wonder whether that's still enough, and whether it isn't simply time for Bioware to allow us to disable XP gains altogether. It wouldn't need any real lore explanation, just allow Hathe'k (the Gree who sells the White Acute Module) to stick around on the fleet all the time and give him a second item to sell called Grey Equilateral Module or whatever; job done. I don't know how hard actually programming an optional XP stop would be though...

Anyway, this idea has obviously been thrown around in the past, especially as it's already a feature in some other popular MMOs, such WoW or LOTRO, and the main argument I've heard against having it in SWTOR as well is that it would result in people creating twinks for low level PvP, which would be cruel to newbies. I used to be on board with this notion, but having done more lowbie PvP recently, I'm honestly starting to doubt my stance on the idea.

If you're the sort of hapless newbie who doesn't even realise that their Shadow has stealth for example, any experienced player on an alt is already going to feel like a twink in comparison anyway. As long as these more experienced players aren't also forming premades, things can also go either way for the newbie: The same guy who kicked your arse in one match may very well end up on your team next time around, carrying you instead. Also, you know what else is cruel to newbies wanting to try to PvP? Long queues, lack of pops, and constantly getting into arenas instead of proper warzones because people outlevel the bracket within the blink of an eye just by doing some quests, even if they are using the White Acute Module.

The latter is largely a side effect of the crazy Conquest changes that were implemented a month ago. About two years ago (patch 5.8 for those who like to keep track), Bioware decided that completing Conquest objectives should also award credits and experience points, which I always thought a bit weirdly recursive to be honest, but since Conquest was much slower back then it wasn't much of an issue.

With the most recent Conquest changes basically rewarding lowbies for breathing though, levelling and Conquest can work each other into a sort of self-reinforcing frenzy at times: For example, you hand in a quest and gain some XP. This also completes a Conquest objective for handing in a quest, so you gain extra XP from that. This extra XP causes you to level up, which in turn completes another Conquest objective called "gain a level", which in turn grants you even more XP and so on and so forth. It's pretty silly and honestly kind of amusing most of the time, but it does make me wince a little when my lowbie PvP characters level up every other match and I can already see the border to the midbie bracket looming in the distance after what feels like barely a handful of matches played.

This could all be solved by simply allowing people to temporarily disable XP gains, and the more I think about it, the more other positive effects I can see that such a feature could have:
  • Finding combat while levelling too easy/boring? Stop your XP gains and see just how far you can get fighting enemies several levels higher than you, without taking anything away from the people who like easy/fast levelling.
  • I'm not a fashionista so not much of an expert on this, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that certain armour sets can only be acquired during specific level ranges, which is very annoying if you're missing a piece for a cosmetic set and outlevel the chance to get it. Being able to lock yourself until you've farmed up everything you want would be another benefit for players.
  • With more people actually spending some time in lower level brackets, there might even be a bit of a market for crafted lower-level gear again (gasp).
I don't know, am I overlooking some big problem with this other than the potential twink issue, which I suspect wouldn't actually be that big a deal? Let me know what you think in the comments.

19 comments :

  1. I've had people comment that being able to level at the original speeds would be nice if you wanted to do all the planetary arcs without being over-leveled. Nothing wrong with having the choice when you want to savor the journey instead of speeding to the destination. :)

    As well, I really enjoy lowbie and midbie PvP and it would be nice to just have a few characters locked to those levels. There's something fun about using what you have, instead of trying to compete against folks with a full set of gear and abilities. Endgame PvP can be just as demoralizing as dealing with twinks.

    Depending on how they do things, it might be enjoyable to lock toons to the various level caps and do the operations that were appropriate to those expansions. I know there were/are some guilds in Wow that would level characters and then try to recreate the experience of leveling/gearing/raiding a specific expansion. It was never a perfect recreation, but it did let them have a group goal with a known endpoint. (Useful when you want something to do during the doldrums of a later expansion.)

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    1. I'm enjoying all three brackets of PvP at the moment. I might write a post about the differences between them and what makes each one unique at some point.

      Alas, your last suggestion wouldn't currently be possible, as all operations bar Dxun require level 70 to enter, even on story mode.

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    2. That's too bad. Still, it would be worth mentioning if they ever added an XP freeze. It could also tie into another wish I had: legacy loot mode instances.

      It is fun to casually hunt for old gear appearances. If the old operations (and possibly dungeons) had a legacy raid mode where you could hunt for the appearance shells that aren't in the game these days it would add another (small) activity for folks.

      I realize this is all a bit of wish-fulfillment and dreaming, but you never know.

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    3. That sounds like a WoW thing. Is it a WoW thing?

      I'm not sure something like that would make sense in SWTOR, considering that boss loot tables are updated at least once per expansion, and Bioware often moves appearance from one source to another. That said, I'd quite like getting the ones back that are currently unavailable.

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    4. It is a Wow thing. Currently, once you are 11 levels higher than the raid you are soloing (so, two expansions back) you get 'legacy loot'. That is, the bosses drop gear as if you were in a 25 person raid group instead of just a single person. You don't necessarily get gear you can equip, but it is better than getting just a single piece. (Even if you can't use the gear it sells for a tidy little amount.)

      So you see folks running old instances just to collect various appearances or items they might be able to in Timewalking. There are even some BoEs that will sell decently on the AH.

      Blizzard will even retune some old boss mechanics for two or more expansions back to make them more solo friendly. They don't retune the previous expansion bosses because they view that gear as still 'prestige' gear and prefer you to group up if you want to hunt for those appearances. That said, they did make the bosses be legacy loot recently because of the corona virus, so I've seen a large uptick of folks doing the hardest difficulties of last expansions raids.

      All of this is a long-winded way of saying I'd like to be able to farm the Columi, Tionese, and Rakata sets. ^_^ Plus whatever flashpoint sets that are gone. Heck, throw in any planetary commendation appearances that aren't available, too. Have everything be available in a special legacy (Founders?) mode with separate loot tables for the bosses so that the regular gear tables can change as the game needs.

      I know they did similar thing (returning gear) with the crates you turned in in Odessan. Call the returned stuff Founder's X so that folks who had original pieces still had a bit of acknowledgement of doing content at level. It's just that it is more fun to run old content, at times, than it is to just turn in a crate.

      Or, now that I think about it, have the end boss of an operation sometimes drop a special crate that has a piece of old gear. That would probably be easier for them to code.

      Sorry for the long reply. This is what happens when I am having my first cup of coffee in the morning. :)

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  2. Totally agree with this. Back (all the way back) when I played, higher-level challenges, trying to solo the old 2+/4+ quests, etc. were some of the most fun parts of the levelling game for me. Definitely broke up the monotony, and since I also cared about the stories, finishing a planet without having it go grey was a good thing, too.

    One (granted, somewhat radical) way of negating twinks would be to make lowbie PvP gear independent. Simply assign everyone a predetermined stat template for their class in sub-cap warzones instead of their actual gear. WoW did something like this for a while, and I thought the level playing field among learners was an excellent idea.

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    1. Well, Bolster already does some normalising of stats, but I wouldn't be opposed to complete equality while levelling either. You say WoW did something like this "for a while" - I'm guessing it didn't work out for them?

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    2. It worked well, but Blizzard wanted endgame PvP gearing to matter more so, as usual for Blizzard, they changed things. Gear mattered, but it the range between a fresh 120 and a Mythic geared raider was supposed to be only around 5%. It didn't quite end up that way and the systems with 8.3 made it far worse. Blizzard swung the nerf bat pretty hard on some items (50%+ nerf on certain things).

      I think if they moved away from a one-size-fits-all PvP mentality and let endgame PvP and leveling PvP use different systems it might encourage more non-rated PvP.

      There's still the issue of faction-imbalance that plaques the perception of battlegrounds, though...

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  3. While I understand the position of those people who enjoy the combat in a game and don't like to have it trivialized, the more common argument of outlevelling story or quest content makes absolutely no sense at all. No game I can remember playing has ever prevented me from carrying on with content after it's gone grey or ceased to give xp. If what I was interested in was the story, I'd have thought the less trouble I had while following the narrative, the better. If you were reading a novel, would you want to have to arm-wrestle the author every time you got to the start of the next chapter?

    There's a whole discussion to be had here about the purpose of narrative in MMORPGs. I have a feeling it mainly exists as a palliative to make the process of levelling less tedious. That's how we transitioned from games that expected players mostly to grind their levels to ones that expected them mostly to quest. In a game like SW:tOR that sells itself primarily on narrative - or started out that way, at least - there wouldn't seem to be any need to connect the two processes at all. If it's all about the story and your character's part in it, the whole thing could play out with combat in cut scenes or discussed as having happened off stage. The more you think about it, given that the narrative in any game can only progress when the protagonist meets a victory condition (even that condition is actually an expected failure), all the combat ever does is delay things.

    Apologies. I seem to have started drafting a post on the nature and purpose of narrative in MMORPGs in your comment column. I'll get my coat...

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    1. Haha, never apologise for that, Bhag! Though the direction of the tangent did confuse me for a bit, considering that I didn't really talk about questing in this post... but I guess people mentioned it in the comments.

      I think the point of that argument is simply that while nobody prevents you from still following a quest arc that's gone grey, it feels bad to be forced to choose between gameplay or story, especially when they've gone hand in hand up to that point. (That's assuming the gameplay is actually enjoyable. If it felt like arm-wrestling all the time I probably wouldn't stick with it for very long to begin with!)

      That said, I don't think stopping XP gains would be more than a band-aid for that sort of situation (at least for me), because manually stopping and re-starting your XP all the time just to stay at level with the story wouldn't make for a great experience either (at least in my eyes).

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    2. Decided to jump in here. I agree with Bhagpuss, really.
      SSWTOR is very much a story-driven thing. Even more so than LOTRO. However, the class stories which are truly excellent, only go the level 50.
      After that, you'll play the same content on every character which is pretty mind-numbing.
      I understand that making 16 new class sorties would have been incredibly intensive, and we'd probably only NOW be going into KotFE after a long wait. Thats not feasible for a MMO these days.
      So levelling from 50 to 75 gets pretty old after the first couple of times.
      MOST people want to get to cap as fast as possible after 50 especially for alts.
      At least to 70 for ops, anyway.

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    3. I know that most people like fast levelling. That's why I'm not suggesting that it should be taken away from them. :) Only that brakes for those of us who don't want to feel rushed would be nice.

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  4. I played SWTOR for about a year as it came, stopping a bit before the F2P conversion happened. Came back about a year ago for about 2 months to see how it had changed.

    Back in the day, I recall a common complaint in the forums being that people were not able to maintain their minimum required level for the story as it moved on to the next planet. They invariably claimed to have run all the dungeons and done all of the side quests. If I bothered to respond, it was generally to say "You have to have missed a lot, becuz I'm always WAY over level by the 3rd planet, even without doing the dungeons." On one character I skipped all the side quests on 3 planets on purpose so that I would "only" be at-level upon reaching Hoth. And I still hit 50 before even reaching Corellia, so I still managed to overlevel everything just in the final 10 levels.

    In my more recent foray, I found leveling speed to be insane. Skipping side quests I'd still be level 40 by the time I was leaving the 3rd planet. Turning the side quests on was even more nuts. Running Corellia at level 62 (even with the mob scaling) was way too easy. The ability to easily solo all the supposedly heroic quests when they used to at least be challenging to do, if not impossible, was kind of a letdown too.

    I never completed the Hutt Cartel missions. Started running them on a couple of characters, but was trying to go back and get all 8 of the classes through the Corellia stories. Didn't quite make it as my interest petered out before finishing up the last class. Perhaps someday I'll give it another look.

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    1. My experience with the original levelling setup was similar to yours. On my main I ended up skipping most of Alderaan and Balmorra because I was already largely over-levelled for both of them, and on subsequent alt playthroughs I made a point of picking and choosing different bits of content for each character to focus on. I was always baffled by the complaints about running out of content for levelling.

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  5. That must be your most commented post in recent time. I did not know, that the topic "leveling speed" would attract so many commentators.

    Is it, because everybody can say something about this subject?

    I don't really care for leveling speed. Don't get me wrong. Still, after more than 8 years in the game, i'm leveling from Level 1. Never used a boost. But i really don't care if i get to max-level a day earlier or not. I always have my mains to raid. And the fact, that i reach Corellia with a Level 48 or a Level 75 does not concern me.

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    1. btw...i just saw your cinematic video...great work...perfect music choice.

      Inspiring.

      I wanted to do a raid by the time the video was over.

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    2. Glad you liked the video! I've been feeling inspired on the video-making front recently... :)

      And I think the subject of levelling speed is an easy one to comment on both because, like you say, it's something everyone can have an opinion on, plus I expressed a controversial minority opinion in this post. That sort of thing is always an invitation to people to either go either "Really? I can't believe you think this!" or "Yes! I think so too but can rarely find anyone who agrees!"

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  6. I thought about commenting on this earlier, but ended up not doing it: you know, I recently did the whole vanilla playthrough on Malgus - since my only other character there has barely reached tatooine, almost from 0 - and it... Was shocking, really. I decided to do JUST class story, and I was in target level for Tython, Coruscant, Taris. Slightly underleveled for Nar Shaddaa, Tatooine, Alderaan. I finished chapter one and I was 3 levels under the mobs, at very least. Balmorra was a bit of a pain as collicoids hurt, and I didn't even catch up until Hoth. Somehow, I managed to become overleveled again by Corellia - but she's still 56. I was surprised, as considering how fast "normal" leveling is, I didn't think just doing class would leave me so far behind... But it may be a problem with scaling xp, too. And - yeah, some of the combat was "harder", but larger mobs were just annoyingly painful.
    Still, good fun I think? Apart from the fact it was knight that I clearly*hate* hahaha

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    1. I know it's possible to still fall behind while levelling, but to me it feels really, really hard to do. When I levelled my Sniper I did just her class story, but simply doing a little bit of map exploration on each planet was enough to keep me at level. If you do anything else at all, such as some side missions or a flashpoint, you'll shoot ahead like a rocket.

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