*ding* (Part 1)

Today I’d like to talk about level ups, everybody likes level ups, right?

Blizzard made some huge changes over the years and the way a character gains a level these days is almost entirely different from the way it worked back in 2005. I’ll make a detailed list of the levelup process and try to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of both.

I hope I don’t get details mixed up, so correct me if I’m wrong about some of the old mechanics.

 

This is how it worked back in 2005:

  • Starting at level 10 you also gained a talent point each level, which could be used to customize your character in any of the three available talent trees
  • Every other level, your class trainer had new abilities for your character. Some were also unlocked by speccing into a specific talent
  • Your weapon skill cap increased by 5 points as did the lockpicking and poisoning ability for the rogue class
  • Upon learning a new or improved ability, you had to open your spellbook and drag the icon on your action bars, adding the new ability or replacing the one with a lower rank. Some classes (usually healers) used multiple ranks of the same spell to have more options with different mana efficiency when healing
  • Especially for new players, money was hard to come by and it wasn’t unusual to see players who couldn’t afford all talent upgrades from the trainer right away, they had to start saving some gold for that
  • At certain levels all characters got special perks, like riding
  • Individual classes also had class specific quests that rewarded the player with key talents or powerful items upon completion. The complexity of these quest varied from walking somewhere and using an item to get the resurrection spell to working for many days to get the required materials for a class specific mount. But I’ll talk about this in detail some other day. For now, let’s just remember that they are/were there

 

This is how it works today:

  • At level 10 players can choose a class specialization (they used to be represented by the different talent trees) and every 15 levels they get to pick one of three talents for that level
  • If there’s a new ability for that level, the character learns it automatically, free of charge. The icon also gets placed on the action bar and there are no more different spell levels. Spells and abilities just get stronger automatically
  • weapon skills are always on maximum level. Skills like lockpicking rise automatically as well and the poison mini-profession has been removed altogether
  • At level 30 the dual-spec option is available for a certain amount of gold
  • the special perks are still there, but they’ve gotten cheaper, the characters recieve them earlier (like riding) and they are more numerous
  • Class specific quests have been removed from the game. For each class there is one extremely simple quest to use a new talent at level 3 or 4 in the starting area

 

I’m not saying one is better than the other and the changed Blizzard made over the years were made for a reason, but let’s analyze the situation.

Note: I won’t be talking about the talent tree system in detail, that topic is far too complex and can fill another blog entry by itself.

 

The 2005 model had some problems, sure. It wasn’t unusual to read forum entries of new players that didn’t find the talent trees until level 20 or 30, months after starting the character. Money was also a hurdle, especially in the beginning, and some players didn’t learn certain talents until way later, which resulted in things like a rogue without the kick ability.

Talent quests were also often skipped, because they didn’t seem important to new players, weren’t really integrated in the questing zones or were just too much of a hassle. Because of this we had to deal with warriors who didn’t learn a different stance, druids who couldn’t shapeshift or priests who were unable to resurrect a dead companion.

Using the spellbook and action bars used to be a challenge for some players as well. I’ve met someone who didn’t use the action bars…he casted everything straight from the spellbook, because he didn’t have a clue about the ability to drag icons to the action bars. It’s usually a logical step if you’re looking at the interface, experimenting a little bit and just having played other games often helped as well, but to be honest, the game never really told a player he could drag new spells to the action bars. I think I remember a loading screen message for that, but that’s about it.

Switching to a new weapon after not having used one of that class for several levels (or ever) resulted in a significant DPS loss in the beginning, and getting that weapon skill to the current maximum often took a long time. The last 3-4 points were usually a real drag.

The talent trees were intimidating for new players, because they were pretty complex with lots of mandatory talents, synergy and useless junk. But making a good decision was hard, if not impossible for beginners, often resulting in a significant disadvantage at tanking/healing/dps. The talent trees got streamlined later and further down the road, players weren’t able to put talent points in all trees at once, just one. This made picking completely wrong talents a lot harder. Even picking talents at random usually resulted in somewhat usable specs.

 

 

Today (patch 5.1) everything has changed and most changes were made to address the issues above.

Important abilities aren’t given through quests anymore. While that removes the danger of a player not learning resurrect, it also removes content from the game. Something gained through such a quest chain seemed like it was something special (and indeed it was) and of higher importance than other trainer-learned abilities. The druid shapeshifting quests are a good example. They were a lot of work, but in the end, the player had not only earned his bear form, but he also knew what it did and how it worked as he had already spent a significant amount of time with it. This was all communicated through the quests. What the game failed to do back then, was communicate the importance of these quests and pointing the player to them. Instead of just removing them, Blizzard could have reworked them to be more integrated into the player’s experience. Learning about your character through a storyline is usually much more effective then the text based information they’ve put in the spellbook.

Using the spellbook should’ve been explained better as well. There wasn’t really an interface tutorial and many options were just “there” and had to be figured out by the player. This didn’t really change much, but they’re trying. Although I think the current spellbook seems a lot more complicated than the old one.

Weapon skills were annoying, but it was a way to show progress. Weapon skills were abilities that could be improved. Not having to work on them got rid of the annoying part of getting the skill up, but it also got rid of the feeling of accomplishment, when you’ve gained the last point in that skill.

Talent trees (again, just a short note here, there’s much more to talk about) were a huge trap for new players, but again…it was just badly communicated by the game. Of course there were cookie cutter specs and everybody used them, resulting in the talent trees to be unnecessary, but until Cataclysm, there was a lot of room for experimentation. There were crazy specs, that weren’t as efficient as the cookie cutter specs, but there was room for customization. Players could also create somewhat crazy builds (I myself created a melee mage…just creating the talent spec took days and was a ton of fun) and just experiment with their classes. That was already removed with the Cataclysm trees, which cut the talent points in half and streamlined the talent trees. Experimentation and customization was pretty much dead by then and there wasn’t really a need for talent trees anymore. So the step from there to the MoP model made sense. The cookie cutter spec is integrated into the regular class specialization and the new talent choices (one out of three every 15 levels) don’t have really meaningful stuff, but at least the player can put some minor tweaks on his class.

 

 

For a dedicated player, getting to a new level in 2005 automatically meant a lot of work. Seeing the trainer, possibly earning some money for all the new abilities, deciding on where to spend the talent point, dusting off the old weapons and increase the weapon skill, travelling for a while to find lockboxes, making sure all the abilities in the action bar had the right spell level and so on.

Blizzard decided to remove all that work, to eliminate the numerous mistakes that could be made by new players and, dare I say, the numerous mistakes that were made deliberately by lazy players who just didn’t care. Now players have to spend significantly less time on developing their character, which I find kinda sad. I always used to be proud when I could actually pick a lockbox that dropped in a dungeon, because most rogues didn’t bother to level their skill. You used to get paid to pick high level locked chests for other players.

Dedication to your character actually made a difference, because the game didn’t automatically do everything for you. By removing all the work, I think players are now a lot less attached to their characters as they were originally. I could never imagine race/faction changing one of my early characters or giving them a different name/look. However, I don’t care for my newer characters at all. I just didn’t have to put any effort into them until the maximum level. Hmm, I really drifted off topic here…where were we? Oh yeah, the level up process.

 

To end this huge posting: Blizzards changes do make sense from a certain point of view. But I think they should’ve reworked the original approach to communicate the different options players had at levelup, the possibilities and importance of all the different aspects. The amount of meaningful customization in WoW was always really low, but it’s gotten even lower with Cataclysm and Pandaria. Players aren’t attached to their characters anymore, and making mistakes while leveling has been removed altogether but not by teaching the player good gameplay, interface and character class knowledge.

 

Part 2 will be coming tomorrow and hopefully it’s a bit shorter 😉