BlizzCon 2019: Here’s how World of Warcraft is streamlining its leveling process

    
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At BlizzCon today, the World of Warcraft team beat loud and often on the drum of choice during the Shadowlands panel, promising that players will have a greater leeway in compelling choices for their game experience. This won’t just happen with the new expansion, Shadowlands, but will start from the very first moment in the game.

According to the team, leveling has been a sticking point of World of Warcraft’s overall experience. It said that feedback from players pointed to several key issues: Leveling took too long, wasn’t that rewarding, didn’t get players caught up with their friends, and missed out on important expansion stories as people out-leveled those zones. Another quirky issue was what the team called the “Warchief Shuffle” — creating a confusing timeline in which the warchief of the Horde (or other key figures) would change depending on various quests and game states that players would weave in and out of doing.

Ergo, World of Warcraft is streamlining the leveling process in one comprehensive swoop. It’s a foundational shift from how players have progressed through the game in the past and how they will when the expansion arrives next year.

First of all, the level squish is indeed happening. The new level cap, come Shadowlands, will be 60 (which was, perhaps not coincidentally, the original level cap of World of Warcraft vanilla). This means that all current level 120 players will wake up one day in the future at level 50, and those under 120 will have their level downsized accordingly. Blizzard was quick to mention that the power level will stay the same and that players shouldn’t feel reduced in any way other than that big number in the top left corner of the screen.

With the level squish, every level will reward a player with something, whether that be a talent choice, a new skill, or some other goody.

Along with the level squish, World of Warcraft’s leveling process will be more like a choose-your-own-adventure than ever before… at least for veteran players and their alts. For brand-new players, however, it’s more of a strict path. These fresh faces will start out in the new zone of Exile’s Reach, which Blizzard said was created to be an ideal introduction to the MMO with many elements — terrain, art, and monsters — that represented the game as a whole. Once new players reach level 10 and finish the zone, they’ll tackle a mini-dungeon with two bosses, visit their respective capital cities, and then be off to a one-two punch of Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands for their 10-60 run.

Why Battle for Azeroth for a first playthrough? The WoW team claims that there is power in “shared stories and events,” and as such, wants to bring these newbies through the latest expansion to bring them up to speed alongside of everyone else.

From your second character on, Blizzard has a greater choice of paths for leveling. Every alt chooses a beginner zone (including Exile’s Reach and all of the current ones), after which they’ll visit their capital city. There, they’ll connect with Chromie for a choice of expansion to experience from start to finish as their level 10 through 50 run. This is what the team calls “Chromie time” or “outdoor timewalking,” as players will get locked into a certain game state for this stretch.

Blizzard isn’t going to stop you from doing what you want. If you don’t really care about doing a specific expansion, you will have the choice to roam the world and do whatever you like. And if you like outleveling dungeons and roflstomping them for transmog, you’ll still be able to do that next year.

Whatever you choose, once you hit 50 you will enter Shadowlands and join with the rest of the crowd for the road to level 60. And all players, new and veteran, will benefit from a significantly faster leveling experience from 1 through 50 — “significantly” here meaning something like 60% to 70% faster than the current live game.

With more progression paths but a shorter road to get new characters and alts to the end, this streamlined World of Warcraft is a bold attempt to make everyone happy — or at least paying and playing the upcoming expansion as quickly as possible.

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Dantos
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Dantos

This might get to me consider giving the game another go. I tried to go back at the start of BfA, and I wanted to reroll as a paladin but the Vanilla, or Cata I guess, content was so bland compared to say the legion stuff I had played before I just couldn’t bear going through the slog AGAIN, and then BC again, and WotLK again, etc. I’ve done each of those probably 7-10 times each at various stages of the game and I wasn’t about to drop $60 to level boost just so I could drop another $60 for the expansion, so I quit.

Having the content there is good for those that want to experience it and having options on where to go is also good, for me at least. I don’t care about the leveling, been there done that too many times to count since Vanilla.

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* bag

I think a big problem for the leveling is the “plowing through mobs”-difficulty.
This change might be excellent because you are essentially stretching the 10 level content to 40 levels instead of shrinking the levels.
Timewise this could roughly match the original leveling speed from 0-60, or 0-80.
This means plenty of challenges and plenty of rewards, NOT dumbing down the content like it is now.
Hopefully at 50 you could choose to start another expansion and experience each with the same set of challenges from 10 to 50. By completing each expansion with one character you gain some veteran status for that character. Which would mean your current level capped character already has that status. And if you have a character at level 90 or so, it would somehow indicate you are level 50+ x with veteran status for BC, WotLK and Cataclysm, or so.
You could then choose to complete the remaining expansions in their designed form or skip to latest expansion.
I think asking for a 0-130 original leveling speed/rewards mode, or requiring any player to do such, is a bit much.

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Tandor

Shame, leveling through a MMORPG has always been the enjoyable thing for me, and the sole reason I play such games. I have no interest in the so-called “endgame” which typically comprises repeating the same content ad nauseum be it e.g capturing a keep/flag or running a dungeon. For me, it’s all about the journey and nothing to do with the destination.

I’ve missed a lot of the BlizzCon detail, have they said anything about the future of WoW Classic? Will they retain the present leveling system for that and extend Classic beyond the initial base game?

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Paragon Lost

I don’t agree with the whole “Leveling took to long”, in Vanilla it was long but not to long, since in my opinion playing an mmorpg should be about the whole cake, the journey as much as it’s about end game. What I will say is that in recent expansions it has felt unrewarding, specially from the point that you got no new abilities and actually became weaker power wise.

There are many things I didn’t like about Vanilla and the older expansions as playing Wow Classic is quickly reminding me, but the things that I did like I really liked. The journey was fun, getting new abilities every other level etc. That questing was actually challenging at times and you could fail/die if you weren’t on your toes etc.

Things I don’t like about Vanilla/Classic are the whole one spec, the huge cost of changing spec, the limit of 16 debuffs on a boss/monster that makes it so that all specs aren’t playable in the game. The lack of transmog so that at end game we all end up looking very similar as we gear up. That said all these things I really don’t like at all still don’t make the game unplayable or unenjoyable.

The problem with WoW Retail currently is that it doesn’t engage me anymore, and that’s as a player of alts who plays usually most of the classes at whatever the current cap is. The questing is boring and small and the challenges often feel stupid and uninspiring at best.

There is a middle ground I think and Blizzard has always had a rough time reaching this, an mmorpg can be so much more than any other genre of mmo and yet we always get a mixed bag at best from them. This next version of WoW sounds like a total reimaging of WoW, I’m calling WoW 2.0 in my head already. I think they’ll make the leveling experience for new characters better with the change though I think that flying through the content “is” a mistake on their part.

Cataclysm onward the leveling through content was really fast, but uneven in feel. Each expansion actually they shortened the world questing/leveling time, it’s just that by Cata is was really bad as someone who would level alts through the game. So again while I applaud them for reimaging the game, speeding up the leveling is a big error in my opinion beyond their current ultra fast pace.

Anyhow I’ll give it a try when it comes out, I’m intrigued by the new character experience, it was after capping 8 characters repeatedly that I started using the boosts to cap other characters so I get the burn out. The problem lay in the feel of the content and what they did with the questing, not leveling itself. If that makes sense.

Also let’s not forget that in recent expansions they’ve made the game play feel like it means nothing. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything, which I felt before Classic came out, but with playing Classic I’ve felt that feeling again. (shrugs) So it will be interesting to see how WoW Retail plays.

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Briar Grey

Interesting. Going to have to wait and see if I like this when I can get hands on. I do hate the ongoing “end game is all” focus though — leveling now is already so damn fast I can’t imagine it being 50-60% faster. MMORPGs really should be more of a ‘journey not destination’ experience with ample end game stuff to keep people engaged, but not the end-all-be-all where the 0-cap levels are nothing but filler.

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Arnold Hendrick

One important point that Blizz is not addressing is the nature of the player community they have built for World of Warcraft.

In my experience (I restarted in fall 2017, after leaving the game in 2005), including “Classic” for the last few months, the overwhelming majority of players are rapid-advancement, solo-oriented gamers. They all want to reach maximum level (or, in the current expansion, maximum “ilevel”) as quickly as possible. For them, the game is a contest for bragging rights.

This is evidenced by the replacement of “gold sellers” of yesteryear with “carry sellers” who disguise their messaging just enough to make their constant advertisements in-game permissable to Blizzard.

Another signal of this is in dungeon play. The Looking-For-Group” (LFG) system is used to zoom through dungeons as rapidly as possible, so much so that when people returned to the teamwork-oriented Dungeon gameplay of “Classic,” there was and is a vast shortage of people willing to play the role most dependent on support from the rest of the party. (Paradoxically this is the tank, because in Classic gaining and holding aggro in very difficult, and easily undermined by over-aggressive DPS characters.)

What passes for global chat channels in WoW (the /2 all-cities “Trade” channel) is full of people just saying inane and/or insulting things, simply to be noticed. For many, this is the best they can do toward gaining a sense of community.

Blizzard could have adjusted their policies toward the community of players in the game, but apparently they don’t recognize this as a problem. Whether top level is 60, 120, or i460 makes little difference if players continue to step all over each other in their scramble to reach it.

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JBNL

so much this. And it’s not just WoW, it seems to be a desirable design feature in pretty much every MMO to “just skip to endgame lol” as if that’s the only thing that counts.
Journey versus destination.

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Tandor

I think that’s compounded by the absurd notion that someone who has just installed a game for the first time is entitled to expect to be the equal of a friend who started the game when it launched years ago.

Two MMORPGs have got it a bit better than most, I think. The leveling system now in SWTOR allows you to level up just by completing the main story and zone story quests, or you can still do all the side quests along the way. ESO’s One Tamriel system allows new players to run alongside veteran players (regardless of faction in PvE), and also allows those who want to do all the content to drop in and out of DLCs and Chapters before hitting the cap without out-leveling the base game by doing so.

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Bryan Cole

Super excited for this. I just wish it was coming before everything else. Leveling now is just painful, mainly because I’ve done it so many times over the years. Good stuff though. I wonder how they are going to future proof this though. Not have level cap raises and just add zones and stories etc.? Like GW2 does? or more level squishes in the future after a certain amount of cap raises? Can’t wait to see what they do.

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NecrococoPlays

Having taken long hiatuses, and having started the game during WotLK, I appreciate the streamlining of this process. Not because I want leveling to be “easy” (I don’t find classic much harder, just time consuming) but because coming into the game with so many different story arcs and content that isn’t “current” can be frustrating.

With changes to leveling over the years, it was annoying to be completely outleveled for a zone in which you hadn’t even come close to completing the narrative arc (and most folks want to earn XP for their efforts when they’re not max level yet..). And as much as I love dungeon crawling and raiding, I also like knowing the story and the lore. I still haven’t experienced the full BC story, nor WotLK, because it was so disjointed and difficult to pick up without turning to Wowhead or something. As someone that’s a fan of those RPG elements, I think the main story arcs should be clearly signaled (a la GW2) so they aren’t missed or overlooked.

Further, even having a few max level characters, I’m hesitant to actually level my alts (as I normally would in other games) because the experience is more stagnant to me. Which is unusual considering I leveled an alt for every advanced spec in SWTOR which is very linear. The prospect of giving each alt a different, contained experience is appealing to me.

I’ve been playing MMOs since SWG, and intentionally avoided WoW for a long time – I’ve played almost every major title, and am a notorious overachiever. So it’s not the locust mentality of show up, play game, complain too hard, leave. I don’t seek out “easy” experiences – but I don’t necessarily enjoy overly convoluted ones either. It is nice to have clarity and to appreciate the older content, and make it clearly accessible for new players to enjoy as opposed to being largely rendered obsolete. The pressure to catch up is real, too – even being an established player, I don’t want to level alone through outland while everyone is congregated elsewhere. Which is another key benefit – players can still level the way they do now if they want.

There is so much content to consume even after reaching max level, that I don’t think all of it could all be covered within a year (without fully no-lifing it) and I don’t think having leveling time halved with the overall squish takes away from that. The journey doesn’t end at level cap in this game – it opens up even further at that point. At 15 years, I don’t think prolonging the leveling process is meaningful.

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Triona Falconer

Call me an Old Timer if you will, but one of the things I feel is wrong with MMO’s these days is that they are too easy, you level way too fast.

I’ve only played WoW for a total of 1 hour (just wasn’t my cup of tea) so I don’t have much skin in this game. Maybe they are trying to draw the youngest players with no attention span?

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Minimalistway

Even old player complaining about this, 120 levels grind is not rewarding, and people want to level alts, it’s not about leveling one character.

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Paragon Lost

Because of the lack of rewarding feel to leveling, that’s why it feels like a grind. :/

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Briar Grey

WoW leveling is too fast, but at the same time, it is also unrewarding, so it feels like a grind. So while I agree with their part on making levels meaningful again, I disagree with making them even faster as it just encourages that rush rush rush to the end mentality.

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NeoWolf

Sadly in MMO’s whenever you hear the word “streamline” what it amounts to is DUMB DOWN..