I have played many videogames over the years and while I do not consider myself to be an expert in any of them, I think I am at least knowledgeable enough to form an opinion on them. You can feel free to disagree with me, but since it’s my blog, then I’ll still write whatever I want. Now of all the types of games I have played, I have the most experience with platformers and puzzle games. So naturally, I will be talking mainly about RPGs. What? Did you think I would actually talk about a genre that doesn’t have an experience bar? That would defeat the whole purpose of the title! Besides, I do have a fair amount of experience with RPGs as well. Honestly though, it is hard not to these days since so many games of different genres have added RPG elements at some point. The most consistent addition when incorporate elements from this genre is leveling up by gaining experience. But what experiences do you gain when you are gaining experience? How is a level system used differently when not used in an RPG setting? It might seem like a weird topic, but here are my thoughts on it anyway.
For the first example today, I will be using gone of the most well-known games of our generation. If you have not heard of this game by now, then it is safe to assume that you have been in a coma since 2008. I am referring to none other than the game Minecraft. Minecraft is probably one of the most popular games of our generations so I am pretty sure everyone will have at least some understanding of what I am talking about. However, to make sure I don’t exclude any recent ex-coma patients who managed to find this blog, I will explain the basics of how experience is used in Minecraft. The first part is relatively straight forward. You just have to do certain tasks so you get farm experience. Two of the biggest ways to do this are: killing enemies, like in an RPG, or mining for certain items in the caves. I want to focus on these two because while there are other ways of getting experience, they tend to be more troublesome to do consistently.
First off, on the subject on killing monsters, this is the most consistent way of gaining experience since, unlike resources, monsters spawn indefinitely. For them to have stopped spawning would mean one of two things. Either the world has been switched to a creative one and spawn rates have been reduced to zero, or the entire world has been torched to oblivion. So, it is pretty easy to find monsters because even if it is daytime, you can just go underground and find some monsters in the mine. Mining itself also nets you experience in two ways, either by directly mining valuable ore, or by smelting it into something you can use to craft. At the same time mining these items allows you to craft better gear. Do you see where I am going with this? No? Well, hear me out. Mining and crafting allow you to gain experience the same way an RPG normally would, while at the same time focusing on the games core design. Since more of your time will be spent exploring mines and crafting things, you will be able to get lots of experience from fighting monsters and bringing back good loot. Then, using some tools that you have crafted, you can power up your tools and armor with enchantments to become stronger.
Now some games already have gear with bonus or enchantments already included with them that you end up unlocking, instead of you having to do it yourself. It is not a problem for Minecraft though due to the way the game was made and so these experience points get accumulated as you normally explore the game. That is, until a creeper sneaks up on you and blows you to kingdom come, causing you to lose your items and experience. Then things become a bit frustrating. The key thing I want to draw your attention to is that unlike most games, experience is a tangible object. Otherwise it would not be something that you would be able to pick up in the first place. It essentially exists as a form of alternate currency to use solely for upgrades and maintenance on your gear. However, before enchanting your gear, you would naturally want to make sure it is good. To sum it up, the way to get your character stronger in Minecraft is obviously to mine and craft, but you can pay experience points you have gathered while playing to give yourself added buffs to your equipment.
Now I realize that using Minecraft as an example was a bit extreme. After all, the game has so little in common with RPGs aside from certain game elements. For instance, Minecraft barely has any real story to it. Sure there are goals you can accomplish so that you can beat the game, but there is nothing telling you to do any of that. There are NPCs you can interact with, but there are pretty much only there for trading and do not give you anything necessary. You can technically beat the game without using your experience points at all. Truth being told, there is such a difference between Minecraft and traditional RPGs you probably wonder why I even brought it up. Don’t worry, I promise it will make sense eventually. For now though, let’s move on to another game. Now I will come out the gate and say that I have no practical experience playing this game. That is your green light to take what I am saying with a grain of salt. However, I still felt the need to talk about this game regardless because it was too hard to pass up. Not to the point where I wanted to fork out sixty bucks, but anyway let’s move to a more recent game: Assassin’s Creed Origins.
This installment came after a one year hiatus where they decided to completely reimagine the nature of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. One of the most notable elements that the have changed is the combat system. Due to the inclusion of RPG elements the game now has skill trees, tiered loot, and a leveling system. Now, let me elaborate on the different ways you can gain experience. You can get experience from doing missions, from exploring different areas, from taking over target areas, completing miscellaneous objectives, and from killing enemies. Now unlike Minecraft, the experience bar is a direct reflection of your strength as a player because even with top quality gear, anything a few levels higher than you will pose a significant challenge. Leveling up is definitely necessary to beating the game and as you level you gain skill points which can give your character new abilities. It is very clear that this is a core mechanic, but does that mean it is functionally identical to a more traditional RPG? I would say no, and here’s why. Remember how I said earlier the different ways of getting experience? Well the one that gives you the least experience by far is actually killing enemies. Even when taking over strongholds, the amount of experience gained for taking over is worth a lot more than taking out every enemy. Now why is that?
There are two reasons for it in my opinion. The first is that the experience bar is a reflection of the world instead of the character. The experience bar doesn’t really go up significantly unless you do something that has sort of impact on the world itself. That means doing side missions and exploring new areas and all that. However, killing randomly spawning enemies will not influence the world at large and so is essentially worthless to experience. So, it leads me with a theory that as your knowledge of the world grows, your experience rises to reflect that. The other theory is that the leveling system is used to control the pacing of the game since without a high enough level you cannot get farther in the main story. So you need to gain as much experience as you can while doing all of these quests while making sure everything is at a reasonable level for you to take on. After all, since enemies a few levels higher than you can mop the floor with you, your options are limited in terms of exploration at certain levels. No matter which theory you think is true, I do not think that the experience bar reflects character growth in any way. Sure the character’s level is going up, but why it is going up is because of you completing some objective in the world rather than your character. The skill points are what really changes your character’s abilities. You do get those for leveling up, but you also get some from exploring. Skill points are honestly earned just by completing enough or certain objectives throughout the game if you stop and think about it. If that is true, then why didn’t we just make skill points the rewards for doing all the things that net us experience?
I know I have been talking a lot but don’t worry we are finally wrapping this up. If any of you have made this far. The question I want to pose by writing this is are leveling systems and experience needed in games that are not RPGs? To be fair to Minecraft, experience is basically treated as a form of currency, but I have to wonder why is it even called experience? It just seems weird is all. However, I cannot understand why a level up system in Assassin’s Creed Origins was necessary when skill points and tiered loot would have been enough to base the game around. Maybe they could have added in permanent health upgrades for certain missions if they felt that wasn’t enough. As it is, I cannot see the leveling system doing much for the character’s growth since challenging yourself to fight stronger enemies is not really all that rewarding. If anything, they might actually be more of a nuisance. Again, I am not an expert on these games. So you can agree or disagree with what I am saying here. But that was the whole point. I want to throw out these kinds of questions and topics to see what people actually think. After all, you guys know more than I do. I’m just a casual gamer guy.