The latest couchpodtatoes episode covers this topic while agree with much of what was said, I wanted to write up a response to the topic that was discussed on the show, mostly as it’s a topic that I feel can break a game.
I have wax lyrically about games that avoid levels before now.
First up is how The City of Heroes/Villains game looked to reduce the dependance on levels through it’s Mentor system, I’ll not cover the same information other than to say, the system was one of the main reason that players would persist with a character even when reaching level 50. The ability to sidekick lower characters up to your level or malefactor down to theirs made playing with your friends so easy.
The introduction of level-less enemies in bigger events such as Rikti invasions. The damage a character did was relative to the power of the attack they used for a level 5 and a level 50 character could effectively do the same amount of damage if they used the same attack against an enemy.
The final use of the game system was allowing you to run Task/Strike Forces and timetravel missions that were restricted to a certain level. This allowed you to complete achievements and play through earlier game content without re-rolling.
The second part of the conversation was about horizontal progression, the only one that I could think that had a very low diagonal progression was the original Planetside game. Ok so it had levels, but the levels only really granted you certificates. The more you got the more you would be able to learn, however your loadout was limited to a number of slots and you couldn’t take everything you had learnt with you. You could unlearn a certificate every 24 hours, allowing you to change your play style.
It’s at this point that a player at level 1 could take out an enemy player who was level 20 as the levels didn’t give you any advantage to your power/damage/targeting etc. There are many that will argue that the veteran player will have more experience and thus will be better in a fight, this is true however the flexibility of the game was to allow you to progress without only getting kills as support activities were rewarded.