Friday, May 7, 2010

The Mid Level Doldrums

It seems like in almost every level based MMO, you hit a plateau at the mid levels where you don't have any new abilities to look forward to for a while. Up until then new abilities come at a rapid pace. However at some point you've earned all of your core skills, and won't be getting any major new ones for many levels (in some games, not until you start to approach the cap). Making it seem all the worse, the pace of leveling often slows dramatically around the same time.

A lot of MMOs break this up a bit by giving you a mount, the right to buy a house, or some similar tangential increase in character abilities in the middle of it. The mid levels are also generally when the trait/ talent/ specialization system starts to really come into it's own. Despite these distractions, the mid levels are where I am most likely to stall out in an MMO. Recently Allods Online, Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online all lost my interest during this time. Numerous alts in WoW and LoTRO have also stalled out in the mid-levels. Unless I really like the game and class I'm playing, it's a rare character indeed that makes it to the cap.

As of last night, I seem to have hit a mini-doldrum with my Paladin in DDO. Hitting level six was a big power boost. I can now memorize a second spell, I can cure disease, and my spell points more than doubled to 107 (up from 45 at level five). However, looking ahead, it seems that level seven is not going to be a very exciting one. Until I hit level 8, the only new abilities I'll get will be whatever I purchase through specialization points. Even then, the level two spells don't look all that exciting to me. Bull's strength will be nice (essentially +2 to hit and damage in melee). And the similar spell that boosts charisma might be worth using. However, I won't be getting a better healing spell than the one I'm currently using until the ripe old age of 11.

Despite all this, I'm having enough fun that I don't really care for the time being. DDO may prove to be the first MMO since LoTRO that I manage to push through the mid-level doldrums in. More than anything, it will come down to how engaging the mid level content is to someone that is largely a soloist. I'm having an absolute blast with the lowbie stuff I'm doing right now.

Even if the mid-level doldrums stall me out again, the character creation system in DDO is deep enough that I still have a lot of decent fun messing around with alts ahead of me. It's one of the reasons I've bought most of the low level content. I know I like the 1-6 game. Getting to play that game without paying any more from here on out would be far from tragic.


  1. The mid-levels are, cruelly, also when leveling starts to slow down, which is another heavy blow.

    Usually when I start a new game, I'm all pumped and ready to go. At the beginning, the levels just fly by, which fuels that excitement. I find that the momentum I've built up does start to wane a little when I reach the middle stage, when the new game high has faded a little, and coupled with what you pointed out about the lack of new abilities at that point.

  2. Mid-level content also has the problem of being the least polished part of any MMO. Once you're past the early, learning levels, that is exactly the time when the content needs to grab your attention by asking you to use your abilities in new and creative ways. Unfortunately, most MMOs don't actually follow through on that, just when it is most needed in the game.

  3. I can relate. For me I think it's worse when you've already been through it in an MMO on your "main" and have to face it for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th? time.
    In LotRO, you can grind out Deeds and Reputation. Is there anything like that in DDO?

  4. What is it about those mid-levels? I have the same problem in most MMO's.

    EQ2 addressed it somewhat in their revamping of mid-level zones. In LotRO, I always seemed to start a new alt when the old one hit the 20's/30's. In Vanguard, I never could manage to get past the mid-levels with a single character. In DAOC though, it's more the very last few levels I have trouble with. Their mid-game is pretty decent.

    They put all the focus on making the new experience good to grab you right away, then the rest of focus and updates is put on end content. The middle stuff usually is never touched again.

  5. @mmogemerchick: agreed, having the pace of leveling slow down at about the same time your abilities start to stagnate is a double whammie.

    @Anjin: it does seem like the mid level content tends to get "phoned in." Not sure what is up with that. I think you are right though, that's likely the major barrier to long term retention in a lot of MMOs.

    @Jomar: totally in the same boat. I wish we had more leveling tracks in LoTRO, I doubt there's more than two complete paths through the game.

    In some ways DDO plays more like a FPS than a typical MMO. Repeating content doesn't seem nearly as odius to me as it does in most MMOs. There are also outdoor zones with a lot of optional objectives (a lot like exploration and kill deeds in LoTRO save that they yield XP instead of titles). You could pad the content out by getting really obsessive with those. Kill tasks tend to yield XP at 10, 20, 40, 100, 200, 400, 1000, and 2000 kills. I've yet to hit 1000 kills anywhere.

    @Aspendawn: I haven't played EQ II since they revamped the leveling tracks. The last time I played it, it was very hard to figure our where to go next once you finished a given zone out. May have to give that a look some time.