WoW - Leveling Up - Whats The Point?
This series is all about the individual components of World of Warcraft, mainly comparing a 2004 design and current design. There’s so much to talk about so let’s break it down into manageable chunks. Todays short topic is leveling up!
Leveling up in games has always served the purpose of giving the player a sense of progression. It’s simple. Kill the things and unlock new stuff. In many games you can’t level up forever. You will eventually reach max level and unlock the desired “End Game Content” component of the game.
Somewhere along the line though the designers at Blizzard forgot this. In playing Battle for Azeroth you are required to level up another 10 times to reach the new end game content at level 120. What do you get along the way? Some PvP talents for a largely dominant PvE game, which largely seem to be just reworked or straight copied Honour talents from Legion.
In Burning Crusade you unlocked another tier of talents with new abilities and the same was true for Wrath of the Lich King. Regardless of how the talent systems was designed, regardless of any other factor, the simple principal being;
“You level up and you can choose how you are stronger”
So what purpose is there to level up in Battle for Azeroth? Are we being forced to experience the story through quests because, within my circle of friends, over 99% do not care about killing another 5 animals for whatever reason. They didn’t read the quest text and Blizzard have clearly accounted for these people by giving us such an easy way to just “get on with leveling”.
Are we being forced to level just to increase the amount of hours you put into the game? It’s a simple answer but I think there’s an even simpler reason. Every expansion comes with new lands and those lands need to be filled with something. Obviously when you quest you should get XP, gold and occasionally a reward but unless the level cap is raised then you can’t gain XP. It’s designed without a thought because it’s just expected as standard.
Battle for Azeroth was a World PvP focused expansion. So there was a little more thought behind it than normal. If you had enabled PvP then you would have access to extra abilities as you leveled up. You would gain increased XP and if you killed other players you would be more powerful until slain.
The result though? They have failed to encourage World PvP. Throughout leveling up characters the amount of PvP encounters I experienced were in the single digits. Those fights are divided into two categories. I die because I was low on health fighting monsters or I escape because with all of the mobility in the game, it’s actually pretty easy to just run away. Likewise in some of the engagements I initiated the other person is killed because they were fighting monsters or escape because you’re never going to catch that druid.
Whilst you can use these PvP abilities in the world for PvE purposes you cannot use them in dungeons or raids where the ‘bulk’ of PvE content is. It’s rather bizarre to think about having an arbitrary restriction on a thing your character could do normally in the open world. Sometimes this does make sense, for example, in vanilla World of Warcraft you couldn’t cast the druid ‘root’ spell indoors which would make sense as most interior areas wouldn’t facilitate how the spell theoretically works. Most of the restricted abilities in current WoW make no sense whatsoever though, I can use them in the open world, or even indoors, in caves and well pretty much anywhere… until I go into an area with the dungeon/raid label on it.
Let’s finish this chapter off with what does work. Classic is a good example but it’s not perfect. There’s are many improvements that can be done.
Every time you leveled up you might unlock a new ability for your class. These abilities were base and built into the classes path. Every mage knew Fireball. Then there were talents and every time you leveled up past level 10 you got a talent. These gave an incremental progression where you could decide, to a certain degree, where your power is.
You could put your talents into being better at Fire, Arcane or Frost magic and to a lesser extent decide what in those categories was improved. Casting faster frostbolts or increased damage against targets which were previously hit by frostbolt.
Every 10 levels past level 20 you would come across a talent that gave an ability for that specialisation. An ability that you could only get by investing talent points into that specialisation. Put 10 points into Fire and your next talent could be spent on getting Pyroblast.
This gave the player not just progression but identity. Other players that saw you can identity you as a fire mage because how you attack looks different or your fire spells look more powerful, or you just use fire spells more in general.
Even weapon specialisations played a part in Classic WoW. Although most would agree it was annoying when you wanted to change weapon. It was more of a flaw of the games basic and simplistic 2004 progression design. We couldn’t do better in 2004 but the concept of becoming better at a weapon you use and really specialising in a weapon is endearing. It’s another identification marker for the player.
“I am a warrior who uses Axes. So I won’t roll on swords”
The iterations of expansions for World of Warcraft have devolved into a glossier looking system. Each expansion adding or removing spells, completely overhauling classes and the way they work, spreading out abilities from 60 levels over to 120 and most distinctively removing a talent at every level that gave the player miniature progression and decisions about their character.
How could this have been developed? How could leveling up have been made to feel more rewarding? I’m sure there are many ways outside of just looking at talents, talent trees, specialisations, abilities, passives and perks. These are main driving factors for MMORPG’s.
A simple improvement would be to broaden the decisions you can make. Rather than lengthening the talent systems, widen them so there are more options for the player to pick. Tackling the problem of having too many abilities or talents by giving players more choice instead of an ever expanding hotbar of abilities.
More advanced improvements could be to bring in weapon specific abilities and talents. Create more weapons for more diversity with skills to match. Put a point into critical strike chance with axes because you want to use axes and have a critical strike build. Get enough points into axes and unlock axe specific abilities. It could work well for a miniature style progression.
World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth and its previous expansion installments has neglected it’s leveling up experience. It’s a thoughtless necessity that would require a heavy handed rework of classes and talent systems to bring back that desire to progress for power before entering the end game content to grind out gear.