One of the stated goals of the designers was to make the climb from 50-60 about as long as the climb from 1-50. I don’t think that’s altogether possible – if nothing else, you probably haven’t been given as much mandatory side-leveling to unlock jobs – but it’s certainly true that you sit at each level for a while. When you unlock your first new ability, that’s your only new ability for a good long while, and you have time and space to use that trick to its fullest. The dungeons level-cap just one level after you can unlock them, and you’re expected to do them with a bit more frequency as you level. And the quests, oh twelve all the quests…
The bright side is that you can treat this as an answer to the problem of leveling a second class to the cap, since you have so many sidequests still sitting around. But the down side is that you have, well, so many sidequests. That experience bar is very slow to move, it’s a fair bit harder to just chain your levequests together, and FATEs are pretty well tuned to no longer serve as the experience farms people like to pretend they are. It seems as if you really need to consume all of those quests on your main to keep moving at a decent clip.
Part of it, of course, is that you don’t have the at-level roulette that we’ve all grown accustomed to in leveling thanks to low-level options. I think there’s also a general shift away from being able to do everything equally on one character; making it a bit harder to work with crafts and such means doing so is a bit more decisive. But it also has the amusing and positive effect of making individual steps along the path far more relevant than they would be otherwise.
In the average expansion with a level cap raise, interim levels are pointless. Why in the world would you farm a non-level capped dungeon when you’re going to be past the level in less than half a day? Yet Heavensward isn’t just a new endgame; it’s a new game all the way along the path, and that includes the fact that the new 50-60 portion of the game has content tuned for it and gives you a chance to be pretty well kitted out.
The daily hunt lists provide the best example of how carefully everything has been designed, I think. On their own, those daily hunts provide a nice boost of experience for you as you level through content, along with seals that are completely useless in terms of helping you along the way. Once you reach the level cap, those seals are very important and useful… but the experience component doesn’t go away, meaning that you can use the leveling content to also improve yourself at the level cap in an interesting symbiotic relationship.
None of that in and of itself speeds up leveling, though, and you’re left with a choice in every zone: Do I try farming a dungeon for more levels, or do I do all of the quests in a region and use that to push ahead? Both will work, but you probably shouldn’t do both, just for the sake of your sanity.
This is compounded by the fact that dungeons are not strictly efficient ways to level. If you focus on doing your daily hunts, questing, and so forth, you will probably be able to get to level 60 faster than if you purely ran dungeons. But the loss of efficiency isn’t as notable if you run out of quests or if you’re trying to leave scraps for a future class to pick up.
And then there’s the simple issue of fatigue. It’s exhausting to be in the same zone endlessly, a problem that the Churning Mists has in spades, but it’s also exhausting to see the same landscape forever and a day. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve run through the Vault and the Aery. (Fortunately, the latter dropped the top I wanted without too much trouble.)
Strictly speaking, I don’t think there’s any point where you need to grind. If you are diligent about quests, grab your daily hunts on a regular basis, and do each of the dungeons once, you should be able to stay on-level for all of the content the expansion has to offer. But there are definitely spots where you’re encouraged to grind on a dungeon over and over, either because there’s no finer source of equipment upgrades or just because you want to leave quests for your second class through Heavensward.
I’m not sure that I like that. I am sure that I like the volume of quests, and I definitely like that we have a big chunk of time to get accustomed to each new ability as it works its way in. Rather than feel as if my rotations have been disrupted, I feel quite comfortable with where Armor Crush sits as a Ninja (although I’m not super comfortable with my hotbars; that’s a different issue). The slowness might even be an ultimate necessity, given the game’s love of teaching you how you should play your role in a slower fashion instead of just dropping new stuff on your bar and leaving you to figure it out.
But that leveling path does have some uncomfortable holes along the way. I’ll have a clearer picture of how uncomfortable once I start bringing Paladin along. At least the two most chain-run-ish dungeons I’ve found are pretty dang fun to play.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now that I’ve had a little time to process, next week it’s time to start talking about the leveling dungeons in depth, and also start unpacking the new classes in more detail for how they play. Please look forward to it.