So, as I'm giving some thought to how we might structure the new game systems, I keep coming back to this crazy idea... that levels aren't necessary. Sure, they're a common concept, but can we make a compelling game without them?
My nascent thought here is to define characters (and their power) entirely in terms of the equipment they have on them.
A critical point here is to think of character skills as equipment as well. Just like you'd expect to have two ring slots to hold rings, you could also have n slots to hold skills. Passive skills, active skill, etc. All equippable if you have open slots. If it makes things easier, consider skills as trinkets you can equip.
I'm interested in this idea because it gives a lot of freedom to building your characters. And we can simply release new item packs to add brand new types of gameplay for everyone to enjoy. The idea is also compelling to me because it puts item hunting at the forefront of gameplay -- it becomes the ultimate expression of advancement.
Essentially, your characters capabilities and stats would be solely determined by the gear that was equipped. And, you'd need to upgrade your gear to conquer more powerful areas to get more powerful gear. "More powerful" may be the wrong idea here -- although it's a natural one. It's also useful to think of that as "appropriate" gear instead. Some interesting possibilities for character progression occur here for sure!
Where things get a bit shady for me is when I think of folks handing items down to new players. Although, I think we could use careful application of soul binding mechanics to help manage this.
Interested to hear feedback on this. Questions are welcome!