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.
Shoot 'em Up
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.