WoW Factor: Why people are mad at Battle for Azeroth, part three: Leveling and scaling

    
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True strength is inside. But leveling should really help.

Remember earlier this week when I was talking about the difference between leveling as a part of the game vs. leveling as a chore? We can all agree that World of Warcraft sees leveling as a chore, right? It’s so clear in every aspect of its demeanor. The last time we actually got a new ability through leveling was in Warlords of Draenor if you count talent points, and even longer if you count “expansion level band actually teaches new abilities.”

This is old hat and we all know it, and this is not the issue in Battle for Azeroth. It’s been a problem for a while, but as this is one of the many issues that did not originate with this expansion, it also is not a reason why people are mad at this expansion. No, this comes from the addition of scaling and absolutely no sense that you’re getting more powerful… a problem that Legion managed to sidestep nicely with the artifacts.

And we just spent last week talking about why the Heart of Azeroth doesn’t fill that role.

The road to on second thought let's not bother.Let’s take a step back for a moment and crib a little bit from a column I wrote back in August about level scaling. That’s a useful point of reference. Within that, I identify one of the two big ways that level scaling can work, but letting your total number of tricks and powers increase even while your level stays on par with the rest of the world. In other words, the stat changes are incidental compared to the overall array of abilities.

This isn’t the only way you can handle scaling, though; both of the online Final Fantasy titles have level scaling in various places that reduces your level down to an appropriate point with fewer tricks but still allows you to still gain rewards appropriate to your “real” level. So your level is capped when it would make content trivial otherwise, but you still have reasons to go back and do other things.

In many ways, the leveling in WoW right now manages to be the worst of both worlds. You get everything around you leveling up along with you, but you also don’t get the sense of having new abilities to unleash on the world around you. Your feelings upon getting a new level are less about “ooh, new ability” and more a matter of “ooh, one more chore done.”

Worse yet, none of it makes old content any more relevant because everything still scales to a cap. Instead of saying, “Hey, if you hate this new area but still have quests to do in the Broken Isles, adventure there,” it just means that you don’t have to do things like paying attention to zone levels or quest levels or whatever. Hitting 116 and having your legendary items “turn off” makes you feel notably weaker from leveling up.

Add in the unbelievably stupid I-can’t-believe-this-is-still-in-the-game fact that enemies scale with your item level, and your goal is generally to “fool” the game into thinking you’re as weak as possible. This means that the idea of being excited by a random good drop is not just removed, but inverted.

This has actually prompted some players to say that the problem is level scaling in general, which is one of those ideas that I disagree with… in concept. But again, scaling wasn’t introduced with this expansion but with its predecessor. And here’s where I do have to mention Legion a bit more because it managed a graceful sleight-of-hand with Artifacts so that you did get that feeling of powering up even with all of that worthless leveling.

In the course of reaching a level in Legion, odds were that you’d gain two or three levels in your Artifact, which would at minimum mean a 10% boost or so to a primary damage ability. It wasn’t major, but it contributed to the feeling that “oh, I’m definitely stronger, even if I’m pressing the same buttons to hit things that are the same level as I am.” You felt at all times like getting stronger made you stronger, even if really you’d be equally strong at level 100 with the same level of artifact.

Without that particular trick, you shine a spotlight on what you don’t get. No new tricks, no new attacks, no useful extra abilities. And this makes something that the game already seems to feel is a chore into an exercise of continually getting weaker.

But I'm riding a new thing now, that's like power!

Not to put too fine a point on it, but players in WoW like to get stronger. Things that make you feel stronger are good. And that is one of the core conceits of the game. It’s a power fantasy, which is both understandable and positive. You get the newer shiny thing and use it to blow up a boss, which gives you a newer and shinier thing. Things that make you weaker are bad and need to be avoided.

So it kind of turns the game on its ear – in a bad way – when one of the core things you’re supposed to do in the game (leveling) makes you weaker (bad thing, must be avoided). It hits that unpleasant part of the lizard brain where you may know you should just move through it, but you become actively opposed to leveling up further because weaker bad. But you have to level up to play the game, so weaker… good now?

The term “ludonarrative dissonance” gets thrown around a lot as a term for game critique, but this feels more like ludomechanical dissonance. What you’re doing in play feels like it’s directly at odds with what the mechanics are telling you that you’re supposed to do. As a result you have this weirdly anxious feeling where the game doesn’t work like you feel it should even as it’s obviously working the way it’s supposed to.

This is also an unfortunately deep hole that the designers have dug for themselves over time, and if you want to think that it’s a known issue, just look at the talk of a “level squish.” In the broadest sense, yes, this would “solve” the issue by allowing these abilities to be spaced out more properly, but it’s also telling that the game doesn’t really have 120 levels worth of power to hand out. The numbers keep going up, but the game doesn’t support them, and the developer don’t seem to have a plan beyond squishing the numbers when they get too high.

Of course, leveling also has the benefit of giving you stories to explore, right? That’s a good thing! At least, until you start exploring that storytelling… and wouldn’t you know that’s a segue into our fourth installment on this particular series. Said fourth installment is going to need to wait just a hair, though. Feedback, as before, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, we’ll take a look at the patch hitting next week; after that, it’s time to talk story, and also time to do a whole lot of extra work for what will probably be diminishing returns. Oh, well.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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kjempff
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kjempff

Try to spin it all you want. Scaling is a great way to ruin a mmorpg.

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J

Bring on the Classic server.

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Hravik

My thing with the classic server is, yeah, cool. I played classic, it would be nice to revisit the game as it was way back when, but eventually we’ll run out of stuff to do, unless they do progression servers.

My wish that’ll never happen: If you’re wiping the slate clean and starting from day one again, engage in some what iffery. Don’t follow the current timeline. Allow the new servers to evolve mechanically and story wise in new directions. A chance to put right what once went wrong *que Quantum Leap theme*

It’ll never be, but I can dream.

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Danny Smith

The players “why make the game all about grinding a single necklace that hold progression of power hostage when the the world scales outside of raids?”

Blizzard “since when has this game been about the world outside the raids?”

They players “its WORLD of warcraft”

Blizzard “maybe ten years ago, now let me tell you about esport and mobage”

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Dobablo

As my gear improves I am killing things faster and living longer. I don’t think I am playing better so NPCs scale with ilvl more slowly than my characters.

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Skoryy

Enemies scale with your item level. Well, that explains a lot.

I think they tried to get the Guild Wars 2 ‘lvl 80 plus exotic/ascended’ feel, and kind of missed where even Arenanet realized they needed OP elite specs to give a sense of more power.

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strangesands

Question. How tough are kobolds in Elwyn Forest for a Level 100 character? Do they go down fast with the new level scaling?

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Ironwu

WoW is not fully level scaled. Regions have a specific range of scaling. So, the original classic zones scale 1 to 60, but stop there. Outland/Northrend 60 to 80. And so forth.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Eliot, do you ever read WoW forums? Vast majority of players praise level scaling. They LOVE it. Because it allows to experience zones without outleveling them, to choose which zones to go, it makes the process more challenging and fun.

(Edited by mod to remove ad hom and then locking subthread off the rails again.)

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Emiliano Lozada

Uh, what? I’m pretty sure Legion got flak when it was discovered that it scaled to ilvl even at max level. The concept of scaling is a good thing but the way WoW implemented it is pretty bad. ESO and FFXIV handle it A LOT better and even goes right into instanced content meaning that old content don’t be irrelevant as soon as an xpac drops.

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Richard de Leon III

A lot of the players who hate scaling no longer play or sub, so they wouldnt be on the forums. I quit WoW for now because of the scaling (especially the ilevel scaling). Its the primary reason i quit subbing to SWTOR as well.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Im pretty sure noone quits WoW cuz of level scaling. People just get bored with a game and seeking for some excuse to quit.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, no one has a legitimate reason to leave. It’s always boredom.

You’re just being a whiteknight, as always.

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Ironwu

Level scaling is one of the reasons I no longer sub WoW. There are other contributing factors, of course. But it is one of the main ones.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Your post doenst make me less sure that you no longer sub cuz you bored with WoW.

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Bruno Brito

No one’s post will. You will believe what you want.

I’m highly sure you also believe that WoW-Awakening became Project Ascension and lost the 50dollars beta key because of the goodness in their hearts and not because they got a shitload of flak on reddit and almost their entire playerbase rioted.

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draugris

lol, now i have to ask you if you ever read wow forums because you seem to have absolutely zero clue about the issues bfa has and why people quit.

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Bruno Brito

He’s just poisonous about the stuff he likes. I’ve given the benefit of the doubt to Oleg before, but he clearly just likes to be a whiteknight about the stuff he enjoys.

BfA is riddled with issues, Blizzard got fucked all over last year and he keeps denying it, while vomiting rainbows over this tortured franchise.

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Bruno Brito

Sure.

She hates it too.jpg
They also do.jpg
They are more skeptical.jpg
They hate it.jpg
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Oleg Chebeneev

Its why I said vast majority and not “every single wow player”

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Bruno Brito

And in 4 screenshots i just proved it wasn’t “Vast majority”.

You can debate this however you want with your “proofless” logic, but the reality of the situation is: BfA is doing badly, WoW is doing badly, and Blizzard is doing badly.

It’s good to have dreams and fight for something, but you tether on delusion. Find a new hobby.

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Oleg Chebeneev

>And in 4 screenshots i just proved it wasn’t “Vast majority”

giphy.gif
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Bruno Brito

If i were your parents i would laugh at you too.

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Utakata

The first rule of WoW is to never read the WoW forums. o.O

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Danny Smith

“it makes the process more challenging” to who?

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Dug From The Earth

I feel leveling is a chore in wow, both 1 to 110, and 110 to 120, but for entirely different reasons… neither of which have anything to do with level scaling.

1-110 is a chore for me, because ive done it SOOOOOOOOOO many times. There is no content that I havent done in the 1-110 range at LEAST 5 times over, and for much of the content ive done it upwards of 20 times over. Its just boring now because its not new, but still requires you to do it. This is why 1-110 is a chore for me. Level scaling didnt change that. It was a chore before and after. Not to mention how over time they have removed many of the “I leveled, what did I unlock?” excitement moments of progression from the leveling game, which only adds to the feeling of it being a chore.

110-120 is a chore for me as well. Even though 110-120 content was all new for me, and pretty well designed, leveling was still a chore. Why you might ask? Simple. Leveling served NO purpose. It didnt unlock anything. I wasnt leveling up to progress ANY aspect of my character. It served as ONE (stupid) purpose, which was to gate content from me.

So no, I dont believe level scaling is the culprit here when it comes to leveling being a chore, or being awful. I believe its simply the easiest target to blame if you dont want to really spend time looking.

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Jake Boller

I love leveling in Classic. I hate it in modern WoW. There is zero challenge now, everything is a mindless race to 120. Mob scaling based on my level and gear is one of the worst feeling features I’ve ever seen in an MMO.

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Richard de Leon III

This was the primary reason i quit WoW this time. I even put it on my exit letter to blizzard via support ticket. Balancing the game has sucked the PVE fun right out of it. The devs are too frightened to do anything completely different for fear of any one class renders another irrelevant.