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.

When done well, it does exactly as intended, providing a constant challenge that keeps the game fun, and will keep itself largely unobtrusive. When done badly, it can head straight into Empty Levels, and/or cause such fun things as bandits with crazy powerful weapons and armor that they could retire in luxury just by selling them, rather than trying to kill you. 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.

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. Badly done Level Scaling may lead to its own variant of Improbable Power Discrepancy.


  • 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.
    • DLC for 2 sets the level of an area to what you are when you first get there, but also has a minimum.

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

  • 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.

  • 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 VIII was the Trope Codifier for RPGs. It 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 enemies 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 1 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Morrowind had very limited level scaling. Creatures in the wilderness and outside of caves/tombs leveled up with the player to a degree. Those inside, however, did not. Also, the number of enemies you encounter increases, which means that you'll be attacked almost constantly at higher levels. Worse, you'll be attacked largely 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 was 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, perhaps overcompensating for the (lack of) level scaling in Morrowind, is an excellent example of how NOT to do level scaling. Characters that are not combat-oriented will find that enemies will still scale to their level, as if to emphasize their inability to fight. Characters that are combat-oriented will find that, eventually, most fights become a mindless slugfest to try to deplete the opponent's massive HP, with no real challenge or risk of death. Enemy equipment also scales up, totally unbalancing the game's economy. You'll spend much of the early levels of your game in Early Game Hell, often finding yourself going completely broke and being stuck with too little power to do anything particularly useful with magic, whereas the higher levels rapidly start finding loot exponentially more expensive than what came before. This results in you finding randomly-generated roadside bandits decked out in full suits of endgame heavy armor. And the worst part? 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. Underleveling often becomes the only way to survive. It's an infamous enough example of level scaling done badly that many people refer to badly implemented level scaling as "Oblivion Syndrome." Additionally, Your spells, abilities and most quest rewards do not scale with your character's level, making them more useless in later levels.
      • Because of this, it should come as no surprise that a number of popular Oblivion Game Mods out there are designed to fix the level scaling issues.
      • One unintended side-effect this had was providing fun for players with the hacker ethic. By carefully studying the rules players found ways around them. This can often be more fun than playing the game straight.
    • Skyrim has level scaling "like Fallout 3's, not Oblivion's". Most enemies simply get replaced by tougher variants in high level areas, while some do directly scale with player level. Random loot also scales. Level-scaling is still not perfect, as it is quite easy to grind non-combat skills and end up facing high level opponents at every newly found area.
  • Fallout 3 proves that Bethesda learned their lesson from Oblivion's screw up. 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 prebuilt to a certain level and pulled off a list to set what's appropriate. By contrast, Oblivion uses the same basic enemy at levels 8 and 20, but improves his stats and equipment. Fallout spawns a level 8 enemy when you enter an area at level 8, and a different level 20 enemy when you enter it at level 20. So you'll be fighting Enclave Troopers in Tesla armor at level 20 (and possibly Hellfire armor if you have Broken Steel), instead of Raiders who happen to be wielding Gatling Lasers while ensconced within Powered Armor.
    • Raiders get upgrades as well. At level 5 they carry mainly pistols and hunting rifles. At level 20, they're equipped with missile launchers and assault rifles instead.Similarly, Super Mutants start with sledgehammers, nail boards, hunting rifles, and assault rifles, later upgrading to super sledges, Chinese assault rifles, miniguns, and missile launchers, along with the vanilla Mutants being swapped out for the tougher Brutes, Masters, and if Broken Steel is installed, Overlords.
    • The aliens in Mothership Zeta more frequently use Deflector Shields and Alien Disintegrators at higher levels, as well as their general stats and the Damage Resistance provided by said shields increasing, up to 110 by Level 30.
    • 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. Later patches to the main game have the NCR, Legion, and BOS 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.
  • Video Game/Wizardry8 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.

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.

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.

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.

Tabletop Game
  • 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 RPG
  • 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).

Alternative Title(s):

Scaled Leveling