Updates Wednesdays

Comic 496 - The Problem with Level Scaling

Posted on Wednesday, the 5th of January at 12:00 AM, 2022 in 2022

Author Notes:

DanVzare Wed, 5. Jan 12:00 AM, 2022 edit delete
I absolutely detest level scaling systems. Because they're basically attempts to fix a problem that the developers created themselves by including a leveling system in the first place.

Let's get down to brass tacks shall we. What is the purpose of a leveling system?
Well the first leveling system was probably in DnD, and it was obviously there to give a sense of progression in a tabletop pen and paper game. The key-phrase there being "a sense of progression". It was (let's face it) basically meaningless. You can give as many or as little experience points per monster or per battle as you want, you can even hand out as many skills and equipment as you want. As a matter of fact, some pen and paper RPG systems do just that.
So what about the first leveling system in a video game, which I think was probably Dragon Quest. Obviously that was just there to copy DnD with a sense of progression, which other RPGs and JRPGs would do for the next decade, and it also allowed the developers to extend the game to whatever length they wanted by virtue of grinding.
But whether intentional or not, this leveling system in video games had another use other than giving "a sense of progression" or extending the game. It also allowed the player to set their own difficulty. Doug says it best on the second panel of this comic.
I think game developers eventually realized this during the 90s, when ridiculous amounts of grinding were no longer required to play an RPG or JRPG. Instead, you only needed to grind whenever you were struggling with the game.

So leveling systems in video games have three potential functions: giving a sense of progression, extending the gameplay, and allowing the player to set their own difficulty. With that second one (extending the gameplay) now being considered outdated.

But then some idiot came along, saw leveling systems, and thought "Hey, the early areas in the game are really easy when I reach the end of the game, and the later areas in the game are impossibly difficult at the start. I should fix that." And thus level scaling was born!
Now you could travel anywhere at anytime, and be sure that enemies were on par with you.
My main problem with this, is of course as the comic shows, that it not only renders grinding pointless, but also potentially game ending!
You could also argue that it somewhat ruins the sense of progression, since you never seem to get stronger than the enemies.
But the thing that really irks me, is that there's an easier and more sensible way to fix this "problem" with leveling systems where enemies aren't always on par with you. DON'T HAVE A LEVELING SYSTEM!

Look at games such as the original Doom or Super Metroid. Those games don't have leveling systems, have a brilliant sense of progression and feeling of getting stronger, and the enemies are always on par with you regardless of wherever you are at the start or end of the game.

If you're considering level scaling, first consider not having a leveling system at all!

To add to this, I've seen it where there's some sort of limited level scaling, where the enemies will only get stronger with you, up to a certain point for certain areas. That's a pretty good compromise, but I still think it undermines the entire point of a leveling system to begin with.
I've also seen it where enemies on a lower level than you, give less and less experience as you get stronger. Which I think is almost as bad as level scaling. You already have to get larger amounts of experience points per level, and stronger enemies already give you larger amounts of experience points to compensate for this so you can continue to level up at a continual pace as you progress through the game. But also including a feature where weaker enemies give you less and less experience as you level up, up to the point where they're giving nothing at all, just compounds the progression systems I already outlined and practically renders grinding impossible! Which once again, ruins the entire point of having a leveling system to begin with! (It does kinda work with Pokemon though, because of the huge post-game content.)

That's all I have to say on the matter. Peace out.


Geeky Meerkat Thu, 13. Jan 9:47 AM, 2022 edit delete reply
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion did it really bad as not only would the enemies get stronger as you got stronger, if you didn't level perfectly they would sometimes become stupidly strong compared to you. Not only that but it resulted in some really stupid things like bandits all wearing some of the best armor in the game while town guards still wore standard town guard armor.

This resulted in some rather interesting tactics people would take such as deciding on a level they were comfortable playing at, and then just not leveling anymore after that point.
DanVzare Sun, 16. Jan 1:40 PM, 2022 edit delete reply
Yep, Elder Scrolls Oblivion was really bad with it's level scaling. Once I reached a point where I realized I could kill any enemy with ease, I remember just not leveling up anymore. It wasn't until many years later that I realized I was accidentally exploiting the game's leveling system.
Final Fantasy VIII also had a terrible level scaling system. Possibly one of the worst ones I've ever seen.