The other day I ended up prowling through Tobold's archives to read about his initial reaction to the release of World of Warcraft. It was quite sweet to read his detailed log of his first months of play, full of enthusiasm and meticulous recordings of quests he did, dungeons he visited and loot he earned. It reminded me a lot of my own first couple of months of playing WoW, except that I was a lot more noobish because I had never played an MMORPG before.
Towards the end I started to skim a bit, but he basically hit the level cap with his first character, tried a bit of endgame and rolled up a lot of alts, but eventually his interest decreased somewhat. He also noted that the game was becoming top-heavy quite quickly, with players suddenly facing a very different kind of game once they hit sixty than the game they had played while levelling.
I'm inclined to agree that levelling and endgame are very different experiences, but I don't think that's a problem per se. They should be able to co-exist quite peacefully, with people who love levelling just rolling another character every time they hit the cap, and people who love the endgame just levelling up once and then enjoying the various activities at the level cap. (And people who like both could opt for anything in-between, obviously.)
The problem is that a lot of people, including the developers themselves, don't acknowlege this and insist that endgame is the only game worth playing. "The game starts at eighty", say the regular players, and there go the devs and double experience gains yet again to speed levelling up even more. Why diminish the levelling experience like that? If it's all about being at eighty, we might as well get rid of levelling altogether, though I doubt many people would consider that a good idea. So why not acknowledge that levelling is a major part of the game and try to improve it instead of making it matter less and less?
One of my friends who is also levelling another alt right now told me yesterday how much he loves the faster xp gains since they made him gain eight levels in a day. I can't really share his enthusiasm. I bought heirloom items for my alts too, but I'm starting to have second thoughts about the increased experience gains, even if the scaling is still awesome. Maybe I'm unusual in this, but whenever I roll a new alt I like them to explore the world as if I, the player, was seeing it for the first time too. They run instances and train in professions. None of them is "just another character that I want to rush to the level cap", I want to develop them on their own terms. Thus I often shudder when I encounter other people's alts without professions and missing important flight paths all over Azeroth for example.
The point I'm trying to make here is that making levelling faster and faster is counter-productive to making it in any way meaningful. Here I am, wanting to explore a lot of different zones with my character in her thirties, but by the time I've finished questing in one zone, I've already outlevelled two others that I've never even been to. Getting new gear doesn't feel exciting at all because you'll discard it again by the end of the day anyway. And what's the point of even trying to get a group for an instance together if you'll already be too high level for it before you even manage to assemble a full party?
Cataclysm is supposed to revive the old world but I'm starting to wonder whether it will actually really change anything in that respect. Sure, people will roll up new alts, but that's more because of the new races and race-class-combinations than because of revamped low-level quests; they did that at the release of Burning Crusade too. But unless Blizzard drastically reduces the amount of available quests in old Azeroth or increases levelling time again, they are basically setting themselves up for creating and revamping a lot of content that people will just skip anyway due to how fast they progress in the old world these days. And the people who want to focus on endgame will still rush to the level cap as fast as possible anyway... so what will really be that different?
The State of the Blog: October
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