Casually Classic: What retail WoW could (re)learn from Burning Crusade Classic’s class progression

    
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Now that we’re weeks into Burning Crusade Classic, players are discovering that despite many antiquated design elements, this expansion is still a whole lot of fun with scads of stuff to do. While many (but not all!) of the community is already engaged with the endgame of raiding, dailies, and hard mode dungeons, one of the most important parts of class progression happened well before characters hit level 70.

I find it a sad commentary on retail World of Warcraft that an expansion from 2007 offers a more satisfying and substantive character progression than the current iteration of the title in 2021. In today’s Casually Classic, I want to examine where retail WoW’s character progression is lacking — and what Burning Crusade Classic has to teach the live team about building expansions.

Up until earlier this year, I was neck-deep in Shadowlands content. I had my fingers crossed that Blizzard would pull out of the downward spiral that was Battle for Azeroth and reclaim the previous heights of Legion (what I consider to be the last “good” expansion of the game).

Initially, it seemed that Blizzard was taking a few really good steps in that direction, especially for its leveling process. The new player zone was tremendously good, the faster pace felt right, and the choose-your-own-adventure of picking a single expansion for leveling promoted choice and alts.

But then there was the leveling squish, a sad commentary on how inconsequential levels were to characters any more. Blizzard scrunched down the levels for nothing more than making its wasteland of character progression less obvious — even though it was still there. Instead of fixing the problem of a lack of choice and customization as players leveled, Blizzard slapped a big ol’ band-aid on it and called it a day.

It got way worse when we got into the new expansion because it was a clear sign that Blizzard really learned nothing from the failing points of its last packs. Characters worked through 10 levels that offered no additional talents or skills and were thrown yet another temporary “borrowed power” system that few could get that enthusiastic about. There simply wasn’t any character content to justify the additional levels, and so yet again, World of Warcraft made players go through the motions of progressing without offering them actual progression.

If some bitterness is leaking out here, trust me when I say that it’s both restrained and widely shared. We’re just so dang tired of investing tons of time into flashy progression systems that are on loan from Blizzard’s library and due back in two years to never be seen again. My eye still twitches in anger when I think about how good Legion’s artifact weapon system was and how Blizz simply gutted it and abandoned it instead of supporting it into the next expansion.

Seriously, what’s the point of levels if there’s nothing to back them up? If even your stats don’t matter because the game dynamically adjusts around them? Why haven’t we gotten new skills or talents for so many expansions now? Forget $40 character boosts; I’d pay that much just to have a good ten seconds of being allowed to grab a game lead by the lapels and shake them vigorously while bellowing, “WHYYYYYYY??”

OK, enough about retail WoW. The point of comparison that I want to make is simple: With talent points on each level, new talent rows, and a small pile of additional skills, Burning Crusade kept the good times of leveling going. It backed the leveling standard with substance. It wasn’t revolutionary — in fact, it was more of the same. But that worked.

Was it sustainable past another expansion or two? Probably not, because there comes a point where games get too top-heavy, but it’s an issue that many elder MMORPGs have addressed with permanent alternative progression systems without having to resort to squishing and removing and ignoring.

I hope that as WoW Classic continues to be a popular draw, Blizzard’s live team is taking notes about what players actually enjoy from this older format — and that it takes the initiative to steer retail back to leveling that offered lasting progression and got the fanbase excited about the ding.

Stepping back into the MMO time machine of WoW Classic, Justin Olivetti offers up observations and ground-level analysis as a Gnome with a view. Casually Classic is a more laid-back look at this legacy ruleset for those of us who’ve never stepped into a raid or seen more than 200 gold to our names.
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Mallus

Continuing character progression is what makes MMO’s “sticky”, WoW lacks this progression now. They need to stop using borrowed power and bring in an AA system like EQ2 or ESO

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Carebear

character progression is not the only problem though… everything in game seems pointles.. I am not into the e-sports of mythic plus runs. I like have a bunch of alts to gear up and get new transmogs and sets and mounts, cosmetics etc.

I also like the good economy in MMOs. Now it does not make sense.. gear up and be stronger for what? Mobs dont even worth to loot them.. professions are useless. Also the previous expansions are useless now..

its just a mess… unless you like raiding and rushed dungeon mentality, wow is the worst mmo to play.

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Estranged

Started an Orc Hunter this week. When I dinged 10 and received my first talent and pet, the feels were real. WoW lost it’s soul in Cataclysm.

This lack of life is not just with the current talent system, it’s about damn near everything.

I don’t mind walking. That’s time to gather leather and mine. Met a Troll hunter on the way to the Barrens and had a nice chat.

Manually looking for a group was highly fulfilling. We cleared RFC after putting together a unit over 30 minutes, while questing. Everyone followed the tank. Kill orders were observed. Modern LFG is a damn nightmare in comparison.

I’m trying retail again, it’s so sanitized. Boring. No feedback loop while questing and little sense of progression.

BC classic feels like home. Wrath classic is going to my permanent place as long as the servers are running.

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Tamanous

After 5 years of private server and Classic Wow, I’m done with Wow for good. This article should be called “What Blizzard could have learned from Classic Wow, but didn’t and is repeating the same mistakes as before.”

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Nathan Aldana

Honestly I cant summon up any want to play TBC or retail. I dont want to play classic, TBC offers nothing I actually want to play. But retail has made it very clear only raiders and mythic dungeon players get to have content. So I think I’m just done with wow.

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Carebear

What do you mean? you have dailies and world quests on retail! (I am kidding, thats not content, thats whores!!)

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Nathan Aldana

yeah, pretty much. I think I’m pretty permanently in the FFXIV camp simply because if I don;lt wanna raid theres still an awful lot of side content for me.

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KoboldWhite

I actually love that feeling of assigning a skill point even if I knew 10 levels back where it would eventually go. Visiting the trainer and getting new skill ranks also adds something tangible to the experience and makes gaining a level feel like an achievement, no matter how small.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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better than me.png
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tyyriz tyyric

For me the problems stem from the limitations Blizzard put on themselves. none of which has anything to do with leveling.
(as a side note – i havent really liked zone music for two expansions now. the vulpera music – i love – but ive got zone music from classic, wrath, MOP in my work playlists. music = zone leveling and i think its symptomatic of the leveling experience i now play SL with music off)

Anyway – they design for:

1. mythic+ esports balancing.

2. world first mythic raid balancing

3. pvp

balancing here always means taking things away. while this article and the comments below are about adding things. in trees we used to get +2% crit or 15% speed or double off hand damage, ect….

now everything is parsed to the point where in Ion’s interview with Preach, Ion is talking “this is x% better than y – which is the range we want it” – the word fun never came up. it was the language of balancing and math.

the only ppl who care about balancing a tightly regulated mathematical equation are ppl playing for money or people looking to destroy other players.

torghast tells you this. in beta they were running it too fast, getting too many powers, that added too many damages. so what did they do? add more mobs, triple the HP of the mobs, tune down the abilities (outlaw rogues ones are laughable, for example. why the pistol shot doesnt become a AOE nuke for rest of floor or lights mobs of fire or whatnot is beyond me).

torghast is supposed to be an esports run. something you can run on twitch with lots of explosions, two teams running side by side. but to balance it they turned it into a horrible slog.

Stefan
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Stefan

Very true, and while subtracting things to solve problems is generally considered a good strategy it is not really working here.

Whoever their core audience was once it certainly is focused on more esports and competitive nature.

Also Blizzard has never been great on balancing things out, but they do have an all or nothing approach and where before balance was not balanced at all they now went full out and try to balance everything.

Torghast still has some overpowered or had, as i no longer play but even those in live they nerfed. Although Blood Death Knight Chains of anguish paired with chains of ice makes for a room clearing combo even at the highest difficulty, but who cares really? Let things get out of control.

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Khrome

Blizzard just forgot what levels are supposed to be about.

They also completely forgot that character progression is not the same as gear progression or borrowed power.

There’s no such thing as a character build. You don’t make or level a character. You go through a mandatory, meaningless grinding period before you unlock the endgame progression system, that’s it.

It’s not *the* reason why levelling feels so hollow, but it is one of the main ones, for me anyway. WoW was never really great at this, but at least in the past, talents were a thing – Even if it was just the illusion of choice, that illusion was important. Also, gear in the past was much more varied and customizable (at least between TBC and MOP), with custom jewels, socketing and reforging (which allowed a mage to spec spirit if they wanted to), ilvl differences between raids were not as vast, combining set bonusses was a thing (or sets in general) and there was simply more viable gear to choose from.

All of the above was either removed or greatly simplified into nothingness.

Any form of customization seems to have been removed, except the streamlined talents, which moved abilities you should get while levelling to a choice between 3 every so often – Which often don’t even have much of an impact, or the abilities are so different that you only really have one clear choice for your playstyle.

I think a lot of people would forgive Blizzard if visual customization was handled better, with more options for how a character looks, but even there they just didn’t bother – The options are still barebones or non-existent, and the transmog system has to deal with either thousands of color-swapped, identical looking items, or assets which would feel more at home in a PS1 game.

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aYates

It’s just too perfect that you can be a higher level in Classic(70), than in retail WoW(60). Says a lot about the state of the current games, sadly.