I’ve been thinking some about levels lately, and what exactly their purpose is. I think is really boils down to just a time/action based gate to a specific and tangible goal.
Levels are a construct of the Pen and Paper days, where it was clearly used in a bunch of calculations. A level 8 had that as a multiplier/addition in calculations. Some early RPGs did as well. UO kind of kicked that to the side for the masses though, with a more organic skill process, where levels didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Still, there were some items that were gated behind a skill level (such as tinkering) where you just were not able to do something until a certain point, though the majority was just about making really crappy copies of something instead.
WoW and EQ went back to PnP roots with levels and something new every ding, at least at launch. You’d get a new skill, or a talent point each level. You could have had half the levels requiring the same amount of overall experience and just doubled the rewards though. A rank of fireball wasn’t a new fireball. 60 levels in WoW taking 7 days of playtime for 20 skills could have just as easily been 20 levels over 7 days. Expansions further diluted the concept of levels, where some you wouldn’t get anything but a ding. Cataclysm made this readily apparent when I leveled an alt. I could go 10 levels without any reward. Why did those levels even exist?
When I’m looking at WoD, I’m in the same mindset. 10 new levels is predicated on the 10 new perks they want to give everyone. They are random perks too, so it’s not like two monks at 92 would be the same, yet they would be identical at 100. Which sort of seems stupid if you think about it. The end space shouldn’t homogenize the differences of leveling, it should be the other way around.
That said, due to the way power curves work and gear scaling, you wouldn’t want the difference between a level 9 and a level 10 to be light years apart, that requires solid design work. Vertical progress without levels doesn’t really make much sense. I rather like EvE’s system of skills to equip something instead, or rather the concept. Just setting a timer doesn’t make much sense mind you, it should be based on use and time. WoW tried that with weapon skills, but it wasn’t based on bad equipment, it was based on miss chance. I can clearly remember training my Shaman with axes at level 60 in a level 15 dungeon, which while odd in practice, actually made logical sense. And really, do you feel more powerful at 60 than you do at 10, on same level enemies? Your time to kill should be the same.
The more I think about it the more it seems like the concept of levels as arbitrary gates is not well thought out. A full skill based game is unlikely in a themepark. Levels for the sake of levels should also go the way of the dodo. They should be meaningful rather than just a number, and having less of them is a solid step towards that goal.