TSW has a level-less system, but as with MMO or solo RPG game, there is still a very important concept of ?progression? where your character gets stonger over time, and certain zones and monsters are too difficult for you until you have acquired new stats and abilities that make your character stronger.
TSW has two types of progression: vertical and horizontal.
*Vertical progression* is your raw stats and weapon strength. This is determined specifically by the total set of talismans and weapons (aka, your ?gear?) that you have currently equipped. If you have an entire set of ?quality level 3? (aka QL3) talismans and both of your weapons are also QL3, then you are effectively ?level 3? or ?rank 3? in your vertical progression (aka ?player strength?). If you have mostly QL3 gear but still some QL2 gear pieces too, then you are somewhere between rank 2 and rank 3 in terms of strength. Note that when you *inspect* another player, you can view the quality level of all their equipped gear pieces and easily see their general strength.
Vertical progression is also controlled by your ?Skills? page and the way you?ve allotted your skill points (SP). To equip a QL3 piece of gear, you must be at ?Skill 2? in the respective skill. For example, to equip a level QL3 Head Talisman, you must have Skill 2 in the ?Head Talismans? row of the Skills page. This means you must have invested 3 SP into that Head Talismans row of the Skills page (1 + 2). Weapon skills are more tricky because there are two rows for each weapon. If you invest *only* in the ?Damage? skill for that weapon, you can achieve Skill 2 for the weapon with only 3 SP. But if you invest your SP in both rows for the weapon equally from the start (1 SP in Damage, then 1 SP in the second row, etc.), you would need to invest 4 points in that weapon before you will achive ?Skill 2? in the weapon. This differential gets worse the higher the skill you are trying to achieve. For example, you can get to Skill 4 in a weapon with only 10 SP by investing all SP into only one line of the weapon (1 + 2 + 3 + 4). But if you try to evenly spread your points across both lines of the weapon, you?d need to invest 16 SP to achieve Skill 4.
*Horizontal progression* is your overall flexibility and adaptability to deal with different types of enemy encounters. This is determined by the sheer number and variety of abilities that you?ve purchased from the Ability Wheel with your earned ability points (AP). The more abilities you?ve unlocked, the more different special-purpose ?decks? (builds) you can create and store in the ?Gear Manager? section of your ?Character Sheet?.
It?s worth noting that there are many monsters in the game that have very specific defenses, strengths, weaknesses, and AI tactics. The most unusual thing about TSW regards monster special defenses. For example, some monsters become *stronger* if they are hit with a certain state like Impaired or Hindered or Weakened, etc, and they can essentially one-shot kill you when this happens. So the game is designed to encourage and *reward* you for broadening your horizontal progression and having a wide variety of deck types to choose from as needed for each encounter. To make this clear, if your first deck that you grow to love in Kingsmouth is focused around applying Weaken and synergizing with the Weaken state, you will eventually run into certain monsters (not just bosses) who your build will make much stronger when you hit them with that Weaken. So ultimately, you should develop a few different decks and playstyles rather than getting comfy with just one deck and one playstyle.
*progression curve* in TSW mostly means the time it takes to develop in strength and therefore to be ready to move on to the next area of a map with tougher monsters or to move on to the next, tougher map within the zone. The progression curve is controlled by three things:
1. Your rate of SP investment to rank up your three talisman rows at the bottom of the Skills page. This is the ?limiter? that controls when you?ll be able to actually equip better gear. You might wonder why I stress the three talisman rows and not the weapon rows, but that will become more clear in a moment.
2. Your finding (or crafting) and equipping of higher-level gear items. Broadly speaking, your *talismans* are the primary factor in determining your overall strength. Your equipped weapon ranks are important too and should near or above your talisman ranks, but the game seems to determine your ?monster conning? primarily based on the levels of your *equipped* talismans. For example, assume that you have all QL3 talismans equipped and both of your equipped weapons are also both QL3. Then assume you ?con? a given monster and his ?conning dot(s)? are white, which means they are roughly equal in strength to you. If you then equip QL1 weapons, the conning dots will stay white. But if you keep your QL3 weapons equipped and instead equip ALL QL1 talismans, the conning dots will probably change to yellow, which means the game now thinks the monsters are slightly stronger than you.
3. Your progression through the blue storyline quests. For example, you will not be able to move on from Kingsmouth to the next map in the game until you complete all 18 tiers of your first storyline quest that takes you to Kingsmouth.
One last point to understand about the overall progression curve of the game: By the time you are able to *enter* Transylvania for the first time, you will probably be at the maximum range of the *vertical* progression. In other words, by this point you will have earned enough SP that if youve invested it wisely and ensured that you are Skill 10 in all three of your talisman rows of the skill page, you should be able to equip maxQL talismans by this point. If instead, however, you?ve spent all your SP in various different weapon rows and are only Skill 5 in all three of your talisman rows, then everything in Translyvania will probably con red to you and you?ll have a tough time there even if you?re packing maxQL weapons.
In general, the steepest slope of the vertical progression occurs in the New England zone, so moving to the next maps in the zone will be tough for you if you?re not prioritizing your SP investment in your three talisman rows of the Skills page. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to be equipping mostly QL3 talismans (and ideally also QL3 weapons) before you venture on from Kingsmouth to the next zone.
In case this sounds daunting, remember that you need only 35 base metals to create a QL3 weapon, because the QL3 weapon toolkit requires only ?imperfect? metals. Same deal for talismans (a QL3 talisman toolkit requires only ?imperfect? components), but the number of mats for talismans varies from 8-12 per talisman depending on the specific talisman slot. But talismans drop frequently enough that it should be easy to build all the QL3 talismans you don?t actually find outright. Generally speaking, farming the mobs in the northern part of the Kingsmouth map will get you plenty of QL3 gear and toolkit drops. Just decompose every colored item you find (even the QL1 gear that you outgrow) and you should have plenty of materials to get yourself geared up to rank 3.
And finally to make things clear, the vertical progression is steep and short, but the horizontal progression goes on long after you?ve maxed out your vertical progression. So just because you?re wearing all maxQL gear items by some point (probably by some point in the Egypt maps), don?t think you?re ?done? growing your character. The game design strongly rewards and requires flexibility, so you need to keep growing your horizontal progression.
Monster difficulty conning indicators
TSW uses two conning indicators to show the relative strenght of any given monster versus yourself: the symbol at the left of the mobs name, and the *color* of that symbol. Note that the red or yellow text for the monster?s *name* is NOT a difficulty indicator. A red name indicates a stronger/wider ?aggro range? for such mobs.
Conning Symbol Colors: range in a spectrum from green > blue > white > yellow > orange > red. White means ?roughly same strength as you are?. Green and blue are weaker than you are, and yellow > orange > red are stronger than you are. If you pay attention while you progress in Kingsmouth, you?ll notice that a lot of mobs that were formerly orange turn yellow eventually as you start equipping more QL1 and QL2 gear items, and certainly you?ll see differences by the time you are wearing mostly QL3 gear. (What seems like yellow at first is actually orange; it?s a subtle difference.)
Conning Symbol Shapes: three small dots, one large dot, one or more skulls, crown, flag.
Three small dots means a ?weenie swarm?. Pull one and it *will* bring friends.
One large dot means a single non-swarming ?normal? monster. Social aggro does happen, so if you pull a single dot that is close to another single dot, chances are good that both of them will aggro you.
Skulls indicate what other games call ?elites?, ?lieutenants?, or ?minibosses?. The number of skulls indicates just how nasty they are.
Crown indicates a unique named mob, usually the target of at least one specific mission teir. These are usually also ?elites? in terms of strength.
Flag is what happens to a Crowned mob when your current active quest has that unique named mob as an objective for the current teir of that quest.
Mission Difficulty Indicators
Mission difficulty is shown when you click on a quest starter ?tablet? or ?chiklet? to examine the details about the quest. You?ll see indicators like ?Hard?, ?Very Hard?, ?Daunting?, etc.
This ?mission conning? system works exactly the same way as the monster conning, except with suggestive text labels rather than color coding. For example, if you?re in a group with 2 other people and the three of you examine a new quest starter, two of you might see ?Very Hard? if you?re both wearing a majority of QL2 gear, while the third person might see ?Daunting? if they are still wearing all rank QL0 gear.