Level Scaling

A specific form of Anti-Grinding, usually seen in RPGs and Roguelikes, though it could potentially be used in any game with Character Levels. Level Scaling is where the world (or specific areas) levels up with you to provide a constant challenge, primarily by upping your foes' stats.

There are three kinds of foe level scaling systems that are commonly used. One is where enemies simply have their stats and/or equipment improved. Another is a system where the number of enemies are increased. The third is a system where weaker enemies are replaced by different, stronger ones. Taking an encounter with a 25 hitpoint wolf in its den as an example - In the first system, the same wolf may have 100 hitpoints at a later level. In the second system, an entire pack of wolves will be encountered at higher levels. In the third system, the wolf will be replaced by a dire wolf or a bear after a certain level is reached. There may also be a combination of the three, so you may encounter wolves that progressively get stronger and increase in number, up until a certain point, where they'll be joined by dire wolves (with dire wolves growing more common at higher levels) or replaced by bears who also progressively get stronger as you level up. Most games employing level scaling also make use of a level cap for certain enemies and/or certain areas, so the cellar in the first tavern you enter isn't going to filled with level 100 rats when you return later.

When done well, it does exactly as intended, providing a constant challenge that keeps the game fun, and will keep itself largely unobtrusive. Otherwise, it can head straight into Empty Levels and cause situations where leveling your character can actually make the game more difficult, such as by having things like regular enemies outleveling friendly NPCs in the game, making things like escort and defense missions a lot more difficult at higher levels. Underleveling (purposefully keeping yourself or your party at a low level) can become a viable tactic (and, under certain circumstances, a Gamebreaker) if this trope is in effect. It can also lead to, (usually) unintentional cases of Improbable Power Discrepancy, depending on when a player first enters an area.

This is becoming more common in RPGs, especially sandbox-style RPGs, as it makes it easier to keep the player challenged, while limiting the need for predicting the level the player will be at when they reach a certain point.

Compare Kill One, Others Get Stronger, where killing foes makes others stronger. Contrast Sorting Algorithm of Evil, where the enemies get tougher as you go along, regardless of your own level.

Sub-Trope of Dynamic Difficulty.

Video-Game Examples:

  • Borderlands is similar to the Dragon Age example below in that each area has minimum and maximum level, and the enemies you encounter are within a few levels or your level, or their minimum or maximum. In the case of co-op, it scales to the host's level.
    • In both the original and the sequel, the raid bosses are scaled to be a few levels above you, even at max level.
    • In Borderlands 2, beating the game in True Vault Hunter Mode causes enemies and quests to scale to level 50. In Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode, everything scales to your level, period. On Digistruct Peak, however, enemies scale to your "overpower levels", which you gain by completing challenges — this means bad guys can go up to level 80, whereas the player can only achieve level 72. It's the same for loot, though you gain the ability to use overleveled gear as you gain overpower levels. The DLC for the game sets the level of an area to what you are when you first get there, but also has a minimum.
  • Left 4 Dead's AI Director is specifically designed to accommodate for how poorly or how well you're doing. It becomes cruelly unforgivable on the Expert and any Realism difficulties, to the point that if you're the only one left from your team, the Director will still spawn a Tank just for you.

  • In Kingdom of Loathing, there are several times where a monster will scale to your level, that is, their stats are equal to yours, plus a certain amount, including the optional boss, a past incarnation of the final boss, the Naughty Sorceress (later reduced to a static difficulty), and all holiday-related monsters. Areas with nothing but scaling monsters are this game's Peninsula of Power Leveling.
  • In Dark Age of Camelot, an instanced dungeon's difficulty is scaled by its level range, your level, and the number of players in the group. If you enter an instance that's level appropriate for you, the mobs will be relatively easy to kill and complete solo. As you add more members however, the enemy NPC's levels will also increase to increase its difficulty as well as rewards.
  • Played mostly straight in City of Heroes. While enemies in open world areas have fixed levels, most missions are instanced, and the instances are scaled to player levels and group sizes. In case of the flashback system that allows high-level heroes to revisit low-level missions, the player is scaled in level to match the mission difficulty.
  • World of Warcraft does this to some degree with boss enemies, who have a skull in place of their level and are always considered to be 3 levels higher than the player, but only in terms of how this affects the hit chance of attacks. Proper scaling does occur with the sparring partners Monks face in their daily quest though.
    • The Warlords of Draenor expansion added Timewalking dungeons, dungeons from the previous expansions where the players are scaled down to match them; the gear earned would then be scaled up to match the player's real level.
    • The Legion expansion implemented Level Scaling for it's pre-patch event, and for the first four zones in the Broken Isles along with the new dungeon; enemies, quests and loot drops all scale to the player's level.
    • Battlegrounds scale players up to the level cap for their bracket which helps prevent lower level players being completely dominated by enemy players nearly ten levels higher.
  • Final Fantasy XIV mostly does the opposite of this for dungeons and FATEs by temporarily lowering the players level to the intended level range. However, when performing Levequests, players have the option to adjust the level of the enemies encountered to their current level or choose freely (up to 4 levels higher or lower than the base).
  • NetHack determines enemy level by averaging your level with your current dungeon depth.
  • Beneath Apple Manor, which actually predated Rogue by two years. Each time you entered a new level the creatures' hit points and damage done were increased to be proportionate to your damage done and hit points, but you could spend Experience Points to increase your stats at any time. This meant that you started off a level fairly vulnerable to monster attacks but became more powerful over the course of the level, easily defeating monsters at the end.
  • ADOM scales a species' level by the number of that species of monster that's been killed. This means that Enemy Summoners that create endless swarms of a single weak species (like werejackals which summon hordes of jackals) will lead to that species soon becoming very tough.
    • Also, the 'Small Cave' starter dungeon's enemies scale by your level, but in a way that will cause them to massively outpace you if you don't get through it quickly.
  • Elona has two types of level scaling:
    • As your Character Level increases, the enemy level of monsters randomly generated as time passesnote  increases as well. Further, the level of monsters in non-bandit ambushes also increases.
    • As your fame increases (due to completing quests and clearing out dungeons) the bandits which ambush you become tougher.

  • Epic Battle Fantasy 4 normally has enemies at a set level, except for Battle Mountain where enemies do scale. Due to the way player and enemy stat growth works, enemies actually outpace the players unless they use stat boosting items.
  • Final Fantasy examples:
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and A2 base random encounters on your clan's average level, which can be exploited, by having a bunch of low level people in your clan, with a few high level people that you generally use.
    • Final Fantasy VII: The first phase of the final boss fight changes based on the party's minimum and average levels, which secret characters have been recruited, and how long the previous boss fight took. Depending on these factors, this fight will be broken up into one, two, or three parties, with higher levels resulting in more split parties. All components will also gain more HP for every character at level 99, with another large boost if a secret summon was used in the previous fight. The second phase will be boosted similarly, but level 99 characters will boost its stats other than HP as well.
    • Final Fantasy VIII matched a monster's level to your party's level, with the monsters automatically learning new (more dangerous) techniques (this was made tougher than it needed to be by the fact that the calculation was made by the party's average level, and the protagonist almost always being in the party). Savvy players figured out that using the "card" ability allowed the player to defeat enemies without collecting the base Experience Points, thus enabling their characters to grow more powerful (from the other victory spoils) while enemies remained the same. However, a number of rare items are more difficult to acquire in this way. The 'LV UP' and "LV DOWN' abilities allow you to forcefully change a monster's level to whatever range gives them the item you want.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics bases non-story battles on your party's levels, which can be a problem, because while monsters gain almost all of their stats from leveling up, humans, especially melee fighters, gain most of their stats from equipment.
  • .hack has this in the .Hack//G.U. games with the Doppelganger, a shadowy version of the main character Haseo who is always five levels higher than you, while Bearing Far stronger Stats, regenerating Health/SP, and status effect-causing weaponry. Facing it head-on like any other monster is tantamount to suicide as it cannot be done. Fortunately, due to the game's combat system there are intelligent ways to weaken it or bleed it's massive health; helped by it's stats no longer increasing when you are within 5 levels of each Volume's level Cap. So fighting it at level 47/97/147 has it be the same as fighting it at level 46/96/146, if not just minutely easier. Your reward from it in Rebirth is a key item, in Reminisce is the volume's most powerful weapons (only if you got the key item from Rebirth), and Redemption a weapon for the game's ending new weapon-class and the game's second-most-powerful armor. Worth it.
  • Dragon Age has level scaling, set up where each enemy has a minimum and maximum level, and being limited to particular areas, though some will always level with you.
    • Also your allies will always be within one level of your character, so they never fall too far behind.
    • The "Trespasser" DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition adds an option to have all enemies scale up to the player's level. (And no, they don't scale down.)
  • The bosses in Lunar: Silver Star Story and it's PSP remake Silver Star Harmony have stats that scale with the hero's level, so it's easier to defeat some bosses at low levels.
  • In Tactics Ogre, many of the enemies in the random encounters scaled with your party's level. However; story battles would eventually cap at a certain point so one could level to 50 and just throw rocks at the level 20 enemies and kill them. It was also possible to exploit this in Knight of Lodis, where it was actually scaled off of Alphonse's level, so keep him three levels below the rest of the party and they carry him to victory.
    • The PSP version of Tactics Ogre also uses this trope; but they discourage you from simply grinding your characters to level 50 because the levels are based off of your class's levels, instead of characters gaining EXP individually. So you can hit level 50 in the first chapter theoretically, but unless you somehow managed to get the other classes that early, they'd be at level one so if you ever tried to train them during a random encounter, you'd be constantly reviving them because the AI will immediately target them.
  • The 7th Saga does this when fighting other playable characters as bosses. Those enemies are matched to be at exactly your player character's level, making Level Grinding largely pointless. If you lose against them, they steal whatever runes you were holding on you when you fought them, and can use them against you for the inevitable rematch.
    • Worse than pointless, in fact. In the North American release, the stat points gained when your character leveled up were reduced, but the enemy stats were unchanged, resulting in incredibly hard fights if you were too "powerful".
    • "Incredibly hard" is something of an understatement. These battles often reached into flat-out unwinnable territory, even when you cheated.
    • Unfortunately, at least in The North American release, excessive level grinding is pretty much required to get from one area to the next, so you're in trouble either way. There's a reason The 7th Saga is considered one of the hardest role-playing games ever made.
  • In The Last Remnant, the enemies do scale to your level(even though you don't technically have one), but have a certain cap when they stop leveling, Special encounters however do not scale and have set statistics.
  • In Baldur's Gate 2, the types of random ençounters adjusted to match your level. In extreme cases this could lead to fighting through a dungeon of random superpowerful liches to fight the comparatively pathetic ostensible boss.
  • In Anachronox, enemies would, at certain points, be scaled to match Boots' (the main character) current level. Thus, enemies would get easier to fight in a certain dungeon, then get tough again upon leaving. As Boots is in your party non-stop, this made level-grinding something to avoid, as Boots would surpass his fellows and render them useless against even mooks. The game made an effort to compensate by similarly increasing the levels of characters that fell behind, but didn't do so enough.
  • In Marvel: Avengers Alliance, regular missions play at a set level, but the enemies in Bonus/Special missions are set at the player character's level, making them difficult (but rewarding) for everyone.
  • Mass Effect is a strange example. Enemies do not level with the player noticeably, but equipment drops, experience points and quest rewards do. Thus, a low-level Shepard might gain a few hundred credits for staking a claim on a mining resource, while a high-level Shepard would get several thousand credits for the very same resource. Similarly, with the exception of the Pinnacle Station DLC, there is no way to get high-tech equipment early on in the game, but later, the player will find super-valuable prototype equipment in any caves and on the corpses of any enemy.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda implements it fully. Enemies level with the player all the way to 132. Unfortunately, your stats and equipment flatline after level 80 so any level after that are Empty Levels and actively work against you. Worse squad mates max out their skills at level 53 so they are left behind even sooner.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Morrowind has very limited level scaling:
      • Creatures in the wilderness and outside of caves/tombs level up with the player to a degree. Those inside, however, do not. The number of enemies the player encounters also increases, at higher levels being attacked often by enemies that are not strong enough to provide a challenge, like Cliff Racers. This makes the game exceedingly difficult at lower levels, and exceedingly easy at higher ones.
      • Loot inside of containers is also randomly generated based on the player's level. The higher the level, the better the chance of finding higher-quality items. Items outside of the containers are hand-placed, however, and will be the same regardless of your level.
    • Oblivion takes level-scaling to extreme levels:
      • Characters that are not combat-oriented such as thieves will find that enemies scale to their level, not their combat ability, making combat encounters extremely difficult.
      • Characters that are combat-oriented will find that more and more enemies resemble Damage Sponges that take a long time to beat without much challenge.
      • Enemy equipment also scales up regardless of faction. This means that, at higher levels, even the common, nameless roadside bandits are frequently encountered with the extremely expensive, endgame-level types of gear that are supposed to be rare lore-wise.
      • Unfortunately, named NPCs do not scale with you, so if you fight through the Siege of Kvatch at level 4 your companions will probably do fine, but if you try it at level 20, they'll get slaughtered.
    • In Skyrim, most enemies simply get replaced by tougher variants in high level areas, while some do directly scale with player level. Random loot also scales, as do many pieces of unique equipment (which makes it advantageous to wait to collect some of them, lest they become less useful later on). It is still possible to grind non-combat skills and end up facing very difficult opponents relative to one's combat ability, although almost every skill has some combat utility if applied with creativity, so the game never becomes straight-up unwinnable. Though due to how magic works in this game (doing a set amount of damage and having very little in the way to squeeze out more damage) spell slingers can find themselves being outmatched by tougher and tougher foes while doing the same damage they were doing levels ago.
  • Fallout:
    • In Fallout 3, the level scaling is based on your level when you enter an area and is never adjusted again for that area, so in the starting areas, you'll deal with easy enemies, and as you get stronger and go further out, the enemies will also get stronger, but if you back to the beginning areas, you'll be dealing with the weak enemies again. In addition, enemies are largely prebuilt to a certain level and pulled off a list to set what's appropriate, instead of having scaled stats and equipment a la Oblivion, and the exceptions are less jarring. There are exceptions however; if Broken Steel is installed you can encounter the freakishly tough Super Mutant Overlords, Albino Radscorpions, and Feral Ghoul Reavers as early as Level 10 when they're a difficult fight for max level characters. See the "Demonic Spiders" RPG page for more detail on them.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas: Lonesome Road, unlike in the main game, the Deathclaws level up with the player, eventually surpassing the Legendary Deathclaw in attack damage (thus on Very Hard, they are guaranteed to kill in one hit, no ifs, ands, or buts about it). The Marked Men, Tunnelers, Lobotomites, and most other DLC creatures also do this though they (mostly) are a far less difficult fight, using their numbers as their main advantage. Later patches to the main game have the NCR, Legion, and Brotherhood of Steel Elite Mooks level with the player, which can be a pain when you have the elite hit squads stalking you due to a bad rep.
    • Fallout 4 scales similarly to 3, with higher maximum enemy ranks, stats and equipment the farther you travel from the starting location; unlike 3, the scale can adjust somewhat when enemies respawn at a previously-visited location. Enemies that are a much higher level than the player, such as the first Deathclaw in Concord, have a skull next to their name, similar to the Borderlands series. Some bosses (e.g. Kellogg) and high-ranking mooks level with the player indefinitely.
  • Wizardry 8 has various kinds of enemies (each kind may appear on different levels) that the game draws from to use against player, depending on how strong the party is.
  • Done as far back as in 1986's The Realm of Angbar: Elfhelm's Bane for Apple ][, where as the player's statistics grow, the monsters become more numerous and come in more powerful types.
  • While not having a true level system, Fable I will replace the enemies in areas as players train more skills. An early area that previously held nothing but beetles and wasps with 10-20 health will eventually be filled with high level bandits with over 1,000 health each.
  • In Fire Emblem Awakening, enemies and bosses in story missions are set at fixed levels, but Paralogues are based on how far you are in the game. It's the same in Fire Emblem Fates, but Fates does the same thing with Xenologues.

Simulation Games
  • The X-Universe series doesn't have traditional character levels, but it does keep track of a couple types of ranking that affect missions. Your Fight rank (simply put, how many kills you have) helps determine the strength of mission-related enemies: an "Average" station defense mission that spawned a half-dozen scoutships when you started the game (not even a threat to the station, never mind the player) will spawn at least one frigate at low twenties Fight rank. At near-maxed fight rank, high-difficulty combat missions will start spawning full size destroyers. Meanwhile, your Trade rank (raised by making a profit off of transactions - either by yourself or through your trade network) plays into mission payouts; in X3: Terran Conflict a mission that paid maybe twenty grand at low Trade rank will often pay over a million at mid-teens rank. However, Fight and Trade rank has no effect on the game outside of the randomly generated missions, meaning one may still end up having to flee from a patrolling Pirate destroyer in their piddly little Space Trucker freighter despite a fight ranking of "harmless".

Wide Open Sandbox
  • Dead Island has scaling similar to Oblivion. Whatever level you are, the enemies will be. Your health increases, but their damage increases to do roughly the same amount percentage wise. Their health increases, but you can equip stronger weapons to do the same back to them. The main point of leveling are gaining new Skills to tilt the odds further in your favor.
  • Dying Light also has level scaling, but unlike Dead Island it's not 1:1, so you do feel more powerful as your level increases. For example, at level 1, zombies have about 150-200 health and a basic, common rarity weapon does an average of 20 damage, requiring several hits to kill just one zombie. At the maximum level of 25, zombies have about 400-500 health and a basic, common rarity weapon does around 700-800 damage, allowing you to chop through hordes with single swings. The only enemies that scale on a 1:1 ratio with you are Rais' soldiers, and only those encountered on the overworld rather than during main story missions.

Other Genres
  • In Muramasa: The Demon Blade, enemies are always scaled to correlate to your level. Even when overleveling, enemies never get any easier. The earlier Demon Trees don't fall too far behind when you are dozens of levels above the recommended levels, the bosses get more vicious, and the regular enemies deal more damage and have more hit points. Other than the trees, the only major benefit to leveling is being able to forge more powerful swords.
  • Puzzle Quest scales all enemies to the same level as your character, except for boss battles.
  • Enemy levels in Super Robot Wars UX scale -2 for mooks and +1 for bosses by either Arnie's level or the Event Deploy Main Character's. Though this seems to vary due to bugs.
  • Mega Man Legends 2 had the digger's license mechanic. At any time in the game you could go and take a test to rank yourself up (you start at B and can go up to S). Certain ruins could only be accessed with a certain license, but ranking up meant the random enemies in every single ruin ranked up to more powerful color-swapped versions.
  • A single Hacking Minigame in Iji has its level adjusted to match the player's Crack stat (minus one or two on lower difficulties). This is because cracking a target with higher Security than your Crack stat cannot be attempted at all, and this one is the only "required" cracking that is supposed to feel "difficult". All other hacking targets in the game have a static level, with all doors that you must crack to finish the game having Security 1.
  • As open as the overworld is in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, enemies will be easier most everywhere to start with, and gradually get replaced with stronger variants the more you accomplish. By the time you've finished the main quest and found a good percentage of the Shrines, it's not uncommon to see at least one Silver enemy at every encampment. This even extends to Lynels as well; if you thought the only Silver Lynel you'd ever see is at the Coliseum Ruins, you'd be dead wrong. The power of the weapons that amiibo gives scales as well depending on progression. Obtaining the paraglider and freeing at least one Divine Beast seems to be the major points.

Other examples:

Card Games
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse is designed for 2-5 players. This does not mean, however, that playing with more than that gives the players an advantage. The villains often have attacks or other effects that are dictated by the number of players, so if you take six or more heroes into the fight, it's that much more difficult. Suddenly you're being even more swarmed by minions, and when the villains themselves attack, they're doing extra damage. On the other side, a party of only two players faces a much easier time, with some villainous attacks being reduced to 0 damage.

Tabletop RPGs
  • Over the course of its history, Dungeons & Dragons has been moving in this direction from early editions relying on the DM eyeballing things (or even letting the chips fall where they may using random wandering monster tables) to an increased emphasis on helping Game Masters design properly "balanced" encounters for the party's level as of the formal third edition at the latest. Fourth edition streamlines the process to almost "decide how fast the group needs to advance to the next level, then include that many XPs' worth of challenge" (there's still a bit more to it than that, but it's the basic idea).
    • 4E has the problem that some of the above video games do- monsters automatically increase in all of their defenses by 1 for each level. So, you have to Min Max just to keep up with the enemies, and likely pay the Feat Tax as well, Wizard of the Coast's inelegant solution to the problem when they realized that PC attack bonuses didn't scale up enough to match NPC defenses. Another problem was that since all of the NPC defenses increased this way, most monsters seldom had much of a weak spot, and a PC couldn't likely figure it out except with trial and error, even if they did. To make things worse, a PC could at most keep up 2 of their 3 Non-AC defenses to scale, and thus always had a weak spot. So, an NPC might have stats like Fort 38/Reflex 39/Will 37, but a PC of the same level might have Fort 38/Reflex 39/Will 30, making any attacks against their will an almost certain hit.
    • 5E averts this somewhat. Due to the "Bounded Accuracy" concept, enemies and Player Characters will rarely get to the point where they can't hit each other due to level differences. An Adult Red Dragon has an AC of 19, and even the infamous Tarrasque has only a 25. HP and damage are thus supposed to be the determinants of effectiveness. So, your level 5 party can take on a CR 15 monster and still reasonably hit it most of the time, but it will likely Curb Stomp them in the DPS race. That being said, some monsters that are really low level, such as less than 1 CR, can be put into the position where their puny +2 or +3 attack bonus will only hit higher level characters on a 19 or 20.

Web Comics
  • In the fictional MMORPG Magience, monsters in Sir Erran's scale based on the average level of the party.

Alternative Title(s): Scaled Leveling