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Online gaming needs to lose the XP

OPINION: Rich Stanton talks long-term multiplayer fun without tired perk and prestige systems

Now I know there are girlymen out there who only like single-player games, but I'm a multiplayer man. Always have been. Nothing beats the cut-and-thrust of competitive gaming, the knowledge that you're facing other people and every single victory is deserved.

And yet faced with another winter of CoD and the usual suspects, I'm getting weary. Not of the matches themselves, but the tired fug of XP and unlocks that has passed as a long-term structure for far too long. Console multiplayer now has a template for its structure. It involves XP, ranking up, unlocks and stats - this is the persistent element. From shooters to fighters to racers to strategy games, we've all seen it countless times. And by god it is a sad and shagged-out sight.

Console multiplayer finds persistence difficult beyond these limited tools, but a better way already exists - on PC. One example is Starcraft 2, a strategy game that structures multiplayer in a quite brilliant way. The core game never changes, but the individual player is the centre of their own competitive universe.

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The actual online action in Assassinís Creed is good. Its persistence is poor

Ranked multiplayer in Starcraft II fits into a ladder format - leagues (which are restarted monthly) containing roughly 100 players. There are thousands of these, which are further ranked by skill, from Bronze to Grand Master level. In every competitive game of Starcraft, you're playing for ladder points. Get enough and you stand a chance of promotion: go on a bad run and you're in relegation trouble.

The game itself is boss, but these always-on and ever-changing leagues are what keeps pulling me back after countless short breaks. The matchmaking fully supports team leagues. When something like PS3 exclusive Killzone 3 tries clan leagues, they're an absolute ball ache to set up. The fact that I can't make a little gang with my mates and automatically enter it into some sort of competition by just clicking 'quick match' absolutely sucks. Isn't this the whole point of consoles?

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