Created By: Ironeye on February 28, 2013 Last Edited By: wanderlustwarrior on June 23, 2013

Empty Level

A Character Level that is light on new abilities.

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In games with a Character Level system, the bonuses a character gets over their lifespan are usually spread over the levels. If a character's attack bonus is supposed to increase by 30 and their magic defense is supposed to increase by 10 over the course of 15 levels, it's straightforward to increase the former by 2 every level and increase the latter by 1 except on every third level. Some benefits don't divide so easily, though. For example, the ability to throw a fireball is binary--either you can or you can't. As a result, such benefits must collectively be spread over the levels.

But what if there are not enough benefits to spread one to every level, or game balance requires them to be clustered? Some levels will only get the standard small numerical benefits that every other level gets. Those levels are called Empty Levels for they are empty of cool new abilities.

Empty Levels in regards to abilities only applies if these extra abilities occur at least half of all levels--if special abilities are a rare occurrence, the player doesn't feel like they're missing anything when a level-up doesn't add a new ability. If the game's design includes a randomization factor for additional skill or power points alotted, it is possible that any level could be considered "empty". This variety may be responded to by some players with Save Scumming.

In a Class and Level System, where each character class has its own abilities, direct benefits to a class-specific ability are usually sufficient to make a level-up special enough to avoid an Empty Level, even if the benefits are strictly numerical.

Empty Levels are not inherently bad--and indeed may be necessary in a game where levels outnumber abilities--but they can cause friction when different characters don't have the same number of Empty Levels.

Empty Levels hurt the most when The Enemies Level Grind Faster. If high-level characters face higher difficulties--often due to Level Scaling--Empty Levels confer a Low-Level Advantage for preceding levels.


Driving Game


Platform Game

Puzzle Game
  • Due to how the stat system works in Puzzle Quest, every other level is empty, because you don't have enough points to raise anything important until two levels have passed.

Real-Time Strategy


Role-Playing Game


Shoot 'em Up

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons is the Trope Maker. While early-edition clerics and magic users could gain new spells with every few levels, fighters and thieves were mainly stuck with the standard increase in attack bonus, saving throws and hit points that everyone got upon leveling up, in addition to increase in skill percentages if you were playing a thief. Combine this with increasingly-horrifying supernatural enemies against whom sharp-sword-swinging was a decreasingly recommendable tactic (powerful undead in particular, whose Level Drain attacks didn't care a whit about your armor and turned anyone they killed into more of them), and it wasn't too long before the Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards thing took hold (course, there were some enemies that were very resistant if not immune to magic, so the casters weren't immune either). Each edition has attempted to fix this, but ultimately only succeeded in making the problem worse. It is such that in 3rd/3.5 if you are not a caster you are required to take short dips in many different classes - something that only works because the martial classes are front loaded in addition to being loaded with empty levels. In 4th you might get features, but rarely are these features actually meaningful in any way. So not only are you required to heavily optimize your character just to keep your attack up at the same rate that enemy defenses scale, but you are most likely still using low level abilities to do this as the higher level abilities are not even necessarily better!

Turn-Based Strategy
  • As with many games, Shining Force increased statistics randomly when players leveled up, in addition to having the magic users learn spells at set levels. However, some level gains can stand a chance of getting disproportionately low stats, such as "1% magic resistance", or gaining nothing.
Community Feedback Replies: 9
  • February 28, 2013
    The current trope on Empty Levels is moving to The Enemies Level Grind Faster to make way for this, the off-wiki meaning of Empty Level, as per the TRS.

    Please add any appropriate examples from the current Empty Levels to this draft in addition to any new examples.
  • February 28, 2013
    • Before World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm, there were no Empty Levels. You gained talent points every level and a new skill every other level, in addition to new features like mounts or Pv P Battlegrounds. Post-Cataclysm, starting at level 10, nearly every even numbered level grants you a new spell, while every odd numbered level grants you a new talent. Some even levels that don't grant abilities still unlock new features. There were empty levels now and again where nothing but base stats change. After Mists of Pandaria, many abilities essential to your class are now passive abilities with the new talents now granted every 15 levels. Empty Levels are far more common then ever before, but they removed false choices/mandatory talents present in the previous systems and your choices have much more meaning and impact.
  • March 1, 2013
    • At higher character levels Star Wars The Old Republic, the supply of new powers offered by class trainers slows down to a trickle compared to the early levels, sometimes resulting in levels where all you get is a minor upgrade of a useless low-level power you haven't used in ages. At least, you get skill points to spend at each level after the 10th. Ultimately subverted by level 50, however, which unlocks upgrades for nearly all powers learned until then.
  • March 7, 2013
    • May happen in Fire Emblem, as stat gains are random per level. Obviously more likely if the character has already capped a lot of their stats. Averted in Radiant Dawn, which forces at least one stat gain per in-battle level, except in the extraordinary case of a character with every stat already capped.
  • June 11, 2013
    Need any help?
  • June 11, 2013
    Cthulhu Saves The World starts off with empty levels that only offer boosts on every other level, but once a certain level, then no more skills are offered, leaving only boosts afterward.
  • June 11, 2013
    I think maybe the threshold for an example should be upped from 50% to 60% or 2/3's.
  • June 22, 2013
  • June 23, 2013
    Some Rolling Updates would be nice.