Two takes on mentoring

I’m currently playing two games with mentoring, a system whereby you can temporarily reduce your character’s level to match lower level content. I’ll take the time in this post to compare the two quite different takes on this mechanism.

Guild Wars 2

This game has automatic mentoring, whenever you travel to a lower zone your character’s level reduces appropriately to maintain some semblance of challenge. This has a number of positives:

No high level ‘farmers’
There’s no possibility of trivialising content by being much higher level than the content’s designed level. I’ve seen this be an issue in LoTRO, WoW and Rift. You’re questing in an area, maybe hunting specific creatures and a high level player comes charging through and massacres the whole population of said creatures in less time than it takes you to kill one. So you’re then stuck waiting on respawns, this simply isn’t possible with auto-mentoring. All players are on a level playing field.

Forget the maths
The auto-mentoring is automatic, no need to calculate the right level to switch to, nor to pay attention to whether that level is still appropriate as you move through content. You’ll never find yourself killing ‘grey mobs’ accidentally. It also works extremely well, so far I’ve not found myself feeling over powered when mentored, which is surprising given that invariably I have access to more skills or even elite skills which a character of the lower level simply wouldn’t have.

Play with friends anytime, anywhere
This is the biggest plus for me. I can play with any number of friends on any character they want. No need to keep characters set aside for specific static groups. Admittedly the lack of structured, linear questing is a big part of this as well.

There are some negatives as well, depending on your point of view:

Soloing is harder
You cannot set your level just above that of the mobs/quests you are doing. So content can be pretty challenging despite your full set of skills or broader set of gear. I’ve died a few times while automentored in a lower area – it’s not the cake walk I have experienced in other games (see the soloing is easier point for Rift below).

Tedium in the long term?
I very doubt this will be a problem for me, but I can see some players getting fed up with feeling so weak in lower zones when they only want to farm some low level crafting collectibles. If you’re not in a zone to actually do the events or hearts then fighting through hordes of creatures on level could make this somewhat tedious.
Rift

This game takes the older model of manual mentoring, where you specify a temporary level to adopt until you, again manually, reset back to normal.  I believe EQ2 has similar, I’ve seen the Chronomancer NPCs that activate the mentoring mechanism in cities but while I was playing never needed to use the system.

In Rift it’s a simple right click option on your character’s portrait available out of combat. You can set any level at least 5 below your current max level. Like GW2’s mentoring this system gives new life potentially to lower level zones that you may have skipped. However it also offers a lot of flexibility, especially compared to GW 2’s automatic variant. Here’s the pro’s:

Soloing is easier
The system allows you to choose just the right level for doing lower level zones so that you get experience but have the easiest/fastest progress (approx 5 levels higher than the mob/rift/quest etc). This means you can take on more challenging group quests solo in zones that are largely abandoned by the general game population.

Freedom to choose
It also means you can ignore the feature and stick at high/max level. If you’re power leveling a friend’s new alt, or running them through a dungeon for quests or gear then you’ll need to out-level the content by a good margin. Auto-mentoring doesn’t have work for this style of gameplay.

The system does have some cons as well of course:

Tacked-on after launch
The mentoring system leaves me feeling slightly overpowered normally even if I’m mentored to the right level (and not level +5 as mentioned above). Is this down to Rift’s stat system not being as well adapted to mentoring compared with GW2, or is it simply the implementation at fault?

Myopia
The minimum ‘5 levels below’ rule has caused at least one group problems. I can see it being annoying if the characters in a static leveling group happen to get out of step given the level banding for dungeons and zones in Rift.

Community impact
Offering such freedom also implies responsibility and potential impact on the community. I’ve been in several rifts for the harvest festival daily and a level 50 joins in (I’m mentored down of course). I then have to manically fight to at least tag some of the mobs as the level 50 annihilates them in seconds. If I don’t get a certain measure of involvement then I won’t get quest credit for closing the rift. It’s not a huge issue but I find it annoying. I suspect this is linked to the ‘tacked-on’ issue – level 50s stomping rifts and invasions in lower zones was very common throughout the games life if there was an event or quest incentive to do so. Just because mentoring has been introduced, it doesn’t mean the game’s community has wholeheartedly adopted its use.

Conclusions
I am a happy user of mentoring in both games. Whether it’s by choice or by design I find it a great addition to a MMO. I’m a supporter of levels as PVE progression, but the level gap can be a major pain when trying to play with friends who all have different play schedules and in-game priorities. This problem was the biggest issue I had during my 5 years of playing WoW – and that game still lacks a mentoring system!

Mentoring in either flavour increases the amount of available, yet challenging content for a character of all levels. I suspect there are those who prefer classic, manual mentoring and maybe those who prefer the invisible, automatic system as presented in GW2. Are these two different systems the most appropriate for these two very different games?

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