*ding* (Part 2)

Having finished the previous entry mainly due to length concerns, I’ll continue my talk about the level up mechanic in World of Warcraft today.

The way WoW’s stat system works these days (again, a lenghty topic for another day) is different from WoW classic. Back then you usually had stamina and your primary stat on an item, but it wasn’t unusual to have strength on rogue items (the Darkmantle set hat several pieces with strength on them). Things like hit or crit were nice to have, but a rare bonus, so you didn’t worry so much about them. Today, you have to watch your hit and expertise cap and think about the weight of mastery, crit and haste. Have stats over the cap and you’re wasting dps, reforge into a weak secondary stat and again, you’re left with a dps loss. It used to be so simple and in fact, the current model is already simplified. Stats like armor penetration got removed and the UI shows a ton of information to the player. But I digress. Due to the stat inflation, there are a lot of stats that have dynamic caps, changing with each level and requiring more points to not drop in efficiency.

This results in a “funny” behavior when leveling up. Usually a new level is something to be celebrated, because the character obviously gets stronger, right? I mean, higher level = stronger character, right? Well, not in World of Warcraft. I observed this recently on my main rogue. The equip wasn’t completely high end, but more or less on par with heroic firelands ilvl. Pretty much the absolute best you could get from valor points, Deathwing lfr (shudder), the occasional 397 leatherworking item, all flawlessly reforged, gemmed and enchanted. Now, when I leveled from 85 to 86, I noticed something odd. Luckily I take screenshots like a madman, so I can show you what I’m talking about.

Wow, isn’t that something? Ignore the higher stamina for one second and look at the rest of the stats. Mainly dps, speed, haste, regen, hit, crit, expertise, mastery and dodge are interesting. Judging by those stats, you’d guess that the left side is level 86 and the right is 85, right? But that’s not the case. In World of Warcraft, your characters actually appear weaker after leveling up. I know, the character actually does get stronger. Stamina rises, attack power goes up slightly and the remaining stats stay at the same level (just the amount required to reach the cap at a higher level changes), so relative to before the character isn’t weaker, not a whole lot stronger, but has a lot more potential.

But WoW does a terrible job of making the player actually feel stronger when looking at the stats. Except for ridiculous amounts of stamina, none of the primary stats (agility, strength, intelligence) are changing all that much. Increasing agility by 1 on levelup, when the average item at level90 has about 500-1000 agility is negligible. I guess it was always like this, and before Cataclysm came along, characters didn’t even gain those ridiculous amounts of stamina they get now. But the lack of information on the character screen worked in favor of the player. In addition to that, 1 agility on level up, made a much bigger effect at level 30, where you’d be happy if an item had agility at all. Even the most insane equipment piece (Tier 3) at level 60 had just about 40 agility.

But again, this leads into a whole new topic of relative character strength…I’ll make a list.

 

If it weren’t for the stamina inflation, players wouldn’t get anything from a level up. I’ll even argue that the whole concept of levels doesn’t really do anything besides forcing players to grind experience. A characters strength is exclusively defined by the equipment, save for their hit points, which started rising with cataclysm. But imagine a Level 1 character in full Tier 14 gear versus a Level 90 character in less powerful gear…let’s not even go overboard with this one, just go down one expansion to Tier 13. They might have roughly the same hitpoints, but due to much, MUCH higher stats, the Level1 character would kick the Lvl90’s ass.

 

In yesterdays posting I said Blizzard should have stuck to the old way of awarding a level up, just integrate and communicate the available options better. But I forgot one aspect, which is the actual leveling process. You see, Blizzard tries to keep the time required to get from Level 1 to maximum level the same with each expansion. So getting from Level 1 to 70 should take as long as from 1 to 90, which results in much more frequent levelups, especially at low levels. Back in WoW classic it took a lot of time to get to level 60 (the leveling process is another interesting topic), even longer than it takes to get from 1-90 today. Getting to lvl60 today, can be done in about 20 hours of game time, which is ridiculously fast if you compare it to the time required in classic. The frequency of levelups is much higher, so getting the old “reward” you had back then and being forced to put a lot of effort in your character doesn’t really work at that speed, so they reduced the talent points from one at every level to one at every other level with Cataclysm and eventually to one every 15 levels with Mists of Pandaria.

 

Gaining a new level should feel like an accomplishment and should be rewarded by the game, but WoW does no such thing. You gain new levels every few minutes and even from 85-90 you get a level up every couple of hours and the rewards are usually non existant. A talent point every 15 levels which often doesn’t even offer -anything- useful and showing weaker character stats isn’t the way to reward a player for leveling up. But it’s all about the “endgame”. A player spends a lot more time at the maximum level than he does leveling, which is ridiculous, so the actual leveling process is just a timesink…a boring timesink, filled with tons of wasted content and devoid of any challenge at all.

Blizzard puts so much effort into making the leveling process as short as possible, that you could assume they themselves think it’s not worth playing through all the content.