Meodia

WoW – Unfulfilled Potential Part 2: Character Progression

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This series of articles is my personal critique of World of Warcraft based on my experiences and observations of ingame issues. I firmly believe that the game could’ve improved in numerous fields with just a bit more thought put into the game design, and that it had numerous opportunities to do so throughout the years. The first page will commonly address and analyze the issues in the game (some which are well known to the playerbase, some which are usually overlooked), while the second page will hold an attempt to present a viable solution for those issues.

Before anything else, I would like to say that World of Warcraft has been one of the best games I have ever played, as no other game had me want to play for over 6 years. There was so much to do, to see, or to experience. Playing with thousands of others ensured I would meet different kinds of people and see something new every day. But good stuff never lasts, there’s really no denying that the game has become something less over the years. Blizzard has continuously worked, updated and adapted the game throughout its life cycle, making some decisions for the better and some for the worse. The game has become more complex, more rich in terms of quantity of the content and game mechanics, yet still on the far end of their design decisions there are those that simply sucked the charm right out of the game.

Part 1: Quest Design
Part 2: Character Progression
Part 3: A Living Breathing World
Part 4: Gameplay Difficulty
Part 5: Profession System
Part 6: Player Activities
Part 7: Dungeon Burnout

Ding!

Intro – As expansions were coming out with newer content of greater quality, more and more people were starting to play WoW, with subscriptions rising to well above 10 million. Naturally, older content had to be revised in some way and Blizzard wanted the newer players to experience their latest expansion as soon as possible. To achieve that, with each consecutive expansion they increased the amount of experience gained from kills and quests but also reduced the amount of experience required to reach the last segments of the previous expansion, essentially urging the player to breeze through the Old Azeroth, the Outlands and then the Icecrown content. Consecutively boosting the leveling speed with each expansion more and more, while it certainly was practical, has created a horrible playing mindset to which the players grew accustomed in a very short time, accepting it as something that was natural and expected of them – playing as if the only thing that matters is at the end of leveling and rushing there at all costs as soon as possible.

Now of course some of it has to do with the fact that playtime needs to be paid for. It could be argued that ‘’without the monthly subscription, players would be in a position to take their time and enjoy the game’’, but I won’t go into that subject here. What we are addressing here is the fact that leveling is by default too fast to experience even a fraction of the vast world, that the pace of the game teaches its players certain values on how to play the game and that the speed of the game generates meaningless, rewardless content too quickly which ultimately drives the players into the corner where their only option is vigorous grinding.

For the upcoming Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard already did this again, reducing the experience required from level 10-39 by 20%, from 82-84 by 33%, and from 84-85 by 50%. Cataclysm content is somehow again not worth the time, just like all the previous expansion content (which never got any updates anyway). It remains to be seen how long will it take for the first Pandaren Character to reach level 85 or 90. Supposedly there have been level 85 Worgens only 5 days after the launch of Cataclysm, while the official World First level 85 character (Forscience, Human Paladin, EU-Neptulon) grabbed the title only 5 hours after the expansions release.

Who will be World First in MoP?

Experience Gain – This is also where the removal of open zone elites and group quests had the biggest impact. For the sake of easier access to the endgame content in a shorter period, players are nudged to skip most of the leveling content just to get to the rainbow cookies that await them at the end. One of the big problems with this change is that today the player is leveling up too quickly actually. Just by completing the first couple of quests in an outpost, the players are already so over leveled that the entire zone has become completely effortless, resulting in the player either skipping most of the cool content or just playing without any kind of rewards. And that is without going to a single dungeon! If the player chooses to go to a dungeon of his level, in just a couple of runs the whole content becomes rewardless (gray colored in game), so he has to choose whether he will completely skip the quests or skip the dungeons. Imagine if you go to one of the lower level dungeons to get a specific item which doesn’t drop in the first 5 runs. The item just became meaningless, the questing zone can be skipped (because you just got a couple of levels in the dungeon) and you saw nothing of the content except the same 6 dungeon hallways. Combine that with the speed of getting a dungeon group with the Dungeon Finder and it ends up in throwing 2 zones of content out the window in 4 hours of play time.

So considering all of this, let’s see what place the professions have. Blizzard implemented another small change that kind of pushed this whole situation a bit more to the wrong side – getting experience from gathering. Mining nodes or gathering herbs gives the player about just as much experience as quests, considering how densely the zones are loaded with them and comparing the time required to complete a quest against getting the profession skill to the next level. Now they get to outlevel the entire zone just by picking flowers from the ground. They might as well have implemented rewarding experience from doing a /wave or /sit. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine managed to level from 80 to 84 exclusively with leveling archeology to the maximum level in a couple of days.

Just to illustrate how fast the leveling has become, let me point to the so called World of Warcraft Ironman Challenge.  For those of you who aren’t informed, the Ironman Challenge is a player made contest which has one simple goal of reaching level 85. However, all the contestants aren’t allowed to use anything except white or gray gear (common items which grant no bonus to stats), no use of gear enhancements (sockets or enchanting), no talent points or specializations, no professions, potions, food buffs, dungeons, raids, battlegrounds, arenas, addons or even grouping with other players. And the last rule is the main challenge – no deaths for any reason. As soon as your character dies, he is disqualified and you have to make another one. Essentially, you can’t use anything. Near the beginning of March 2012, the Ironman Challenge was completed by Kripparrian (Turaylon), making it a world first, in 4 days, 17 hours and 40 minutes play time. So while we’re talking about the speed of leveling, apparently you can get to level 85 on your own, completely butt-naked in only 5 days of total play time if you put in the effort and play very very carefully. This is absurdly fast.

Will you be trying to get to the final level without any of your favorite toys?

Levels and Player Power – Another huge problem with this is the ridiculous difference in player power according to his or her level. This influences both PvE and PvP play. Leveling too quickly leads to zones with gray quests, irrelevant rewards, meaningless dungeons and enemies that die when you sneeze at them. In PvP there is simply nothing a player can do to his opponent who is just 4 or 5 levels above him, and this is so painfully obvious in Cataclysm between a level 81 and an 84 player, and they are both eaten for breakfast by a level 85 character in only heroic dungeon gear. The whole combat system revolves around using abilities all the time, and an opponent that is 3 levels higher resist most of spells or abilities, so the player can’t even effectively hit him. And the same applies in reverse, making a creature 3 levels below award no experience and no challenge. So what can the player do in that situation? Nothing except declaring his current zone irrelevant and getting to the end as soon as possible.

The Mounts – Reducing the level required for obtaining a ground mount from 40 to 20 (fast ground mount from 60 to 40 and flying mount from 70 to 60) also contributed to this mentality. While the mounts have certainly reduced the tedious parts of the game, such as watching the ”auto-run” for half an hour while the character wiggles his way to the next outpost, the flying mounts are just seriously overpowered. From the players’ perspective, the regular and epic ground mounts are simply stepping stones towards the grand prize of ultimate form of skipping content – the ability to mount anywhere in the world and fly over zones in under a minute, not ”hindered” by creatures wandering the zones, other players or terrain barriers, and with no consequences. I made an experiment recently to see how fast the epic flying mounts actually are. The fastest flying mode currently in the game (310%) can actually take you from the most north-east edge of ‘’Winterspring’’ in Kalimdor to the most south-west corner of ‘’Ahn’Qiraj, The Fallen Kingdom’’ in 12 minutes and 10 seconds. That’s one entire continent (flying over 8 zones) under 15 minutes. This ultimately means you have the entire world under your thumb, which doesn’t make them all that exciting to reach or be there. Instead of journeying to a certain part of the world, it feels like you’re hopping across the street instead.

There is also almost no logical reason to take up a crafting profession before acquiring the flying mount, and with the opportunity to just fly up in to the skies at any location in the world the players make themselves pretty much invincible, removing absolutely every form of threat and allowing the player to focus only and exclusively on his objective. The players are essentially told, right at the start, that if they progress far enough into the game they will be rewarded in the way that they won’t have to be bothered by anything by acquiring the unlimited use of a ”save button” and a ”fast forward button”, and that is one of the core sources of this ‘’must rush to the end’’ mentality.

It’s pretty awesome to have your own dragon.

Endgame Content – Whether it is raiding or PvP (general PvP or Arenas), players can only truly participate in those aspects of the game at the highest level, which is pushed further away with each expansion. Immediately upon an expansion’s release those that like to raid rush through the leveling in a couple of days to enter the ‘’endgame’’, while Arenas and Battlegrounds share a similar fate, as they tend to matter (or access is exclusively granted, such as Tol Barad) only at the highest level.

While the dungeon runs on lower levels are still abundant and perfectly doable, the PvP side of the story doesn’t fare that well. To be able to participate in the Battlegrounds in the lower brackets, the players must fulfill one simple criteria – have a character already at level 85. Why? Because Heirloom gear is available for purchase only for those at the end. Heirloom quality gear are ‘’Bind on Account’’ items which can be mailed to other characters on the same account, scale in levels and are intended for lower level characters (as some of them even have a 10% experience bonus gain against creatures). In a battleground, a lower level character without any Heirloom items stands no chance against someone who is the same level but has a full set of Heirloom gear, which makes the battlegrounds a frustrating experience at that point. The message is again clear as day – if you reach the end of the game, you get an I-Win button on earlier levels, unless you come across another player with the same I-Win button in which case you can finally properly enjoy the competition.

Twinks FTW!

Dungeons and Battlegrounds – Over time, the players have effectively taken this rushing mentality from the leveling part of the game into dungeons and battlegrounds. The most evident example is the battleground Alterac Valley, where both sides simply form a train of Alliance and Horde players passing and completely ignoring each other through the middle of the zone, until both sides reach the end boss (or on a very rare occasion the middle bosses, Balinda and Galvangar), which is widely accepted as ‘’the way it’s supposed to be done’’.

Alterac Valley by default has so much content in it, from the possibility to start an NPC ground assault, cavalry assault, aerial assault, or summoning an ‘’Ultimate Unit’’, to upgrading their gear, conquering the mines and rescuing powerful named NPCs, but the only type of a game that is played is the rush game, and the achievement ‘’Alterac Blitz’’ to win it in under 6 minutes isn’t helping this case. The largest possible battleground has been turned into the shortest one, resembling a PvE experience far more than a PvP. The players don’t enter Alterac Valley to play a game, they enter it so that they can get more currency tokens to buy better gear and that’s it. If those currency tokens can be acquired immediately, then it will be done so. Nobody wants to fight there for 2 hours and then get only 1 token because they ended up losing, instead they could have lost 20 times in that period and could have gotten 20 or even more tokens if they got lucky.

This mentality is present in all battlegrounds and all dungeons, without exception, because the players have been thought to play that way. Dungeons are to be completed in under 20 minutes, and if they are not, some players would rather leave the group and wait for a new one to form than to spend more time in that ‘’failed attempt’’ simply because it took a little longer.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2>>>

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Greg is in fact a cute little fluffy kitten that likes cake, games... and undead. Thinks that Zombies are so 2008, and would like to see some skeletons and wraiths take the spotlight for a change, they need love too!