It was always this easy… (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of my little analysis of the leveling difficulty. Last time we went over the way the character’s skills and equipment during leveling (especially in the 1-60 content) became much stronger. This time we’ll take a look at several other aspects that had an impact on the leveling difficulty and speed.

First up is travel. This is actually a more complex topic with more consequences than just reduced leveling speed, so I’ll go into more detail about traveling in a later entry.

Blizzard introduced several convenient changes and additions to the way characters can travel through the world, reducing the time to get from point A to point B, either by making mounts available at earlier levels, adding flight paths, flying mounts, teleporters and many other things. I won’t go on about the advantages and disadvantages of these changes, so let’s just acknowledge the effect they had on leveling. While leveling through quests, a player has to travel…a lot! Either from questgiver to quest-objective, from questhub A to questhub B or to a different zone or continent. With every aspect of travel made easier and faster, while also introducing completely new methods, it’s clear that a huge amount of leveling time has been cut. We could argue that Blizzard just removed dead filler, thus allowing players to get to where the action is faster, but I don’t quite agree. We’ll discuss this in detail some other day.

 

What do we usually do while leveling? Killig stuff! Well that’s what players used to do most, but nowadays I’m not so sure anymore. Anyway, combat plays a huge role in World of Warcraft, during leveling, after reaching the level cap, PvE or PvP and even the tradeskills often involve combat.

Those were the days...

What could Blizzard do to make the core aspect of a game called World of WARcraft less important? Again, a lot.

Now, it should have been enough to give the players more powerful gear and spells, but apparently that didn’t cut it. Here’s a list of things implemented to make the PvE experience less…well…fun? Challenging? I don’t know what they were trying to accomplish, but let’s assume some players died a lot and found it frustrating. So here’s the list of frustrating content Blizzard got rid of:

  • Elite mobs in the wild. Boy were these annoying. Paying attention left and right, being forced to play with *shudder* other people, putting effort into the fight and even *gasp* dying! I’m glad they’re a thing of the past! Now I can finally just toggle auto run and AoE through the pathetic creatures straight to the endgame. Tyr’s Hand was stupid anyways. (no it wasn’t)
  • Difficult encounters. Ever died to “Princess” or “Bellygrub”? Not recently you didn’t! Blizzard came to their senses and toned down even non-elite encounters, because some of them were slightly too difficult for undergeared and underleveled players. Besides, getting defeated by a strong enemy, working on my gear and skills, gaining a level or two and coming back with a vengeance, smiting the once powerful foe didn’t give me any satisfaction or feeling of triumph. Bah, slicing through everything like a hot knife through butter, every time without exception is much more fun and does NOT get old. EVER! So thanks for that, Blizzard!
  • Combat. Yeah, you’ve heard me! I don’t play World of WARcraft to fight all the time…or most of the time and be challenged every now and then. That’s dumb! I want to run more errands, get lots of cutscenes like I’m watching a movie, drive around in motorcycles, play as different NPCs (I don’t want to play as MY character, who does that?), do quick time events which don’t have anything to do with my characters actual strength or my ability to utilize that strength and plant carrots! I’m a rogue goddamnit! I want to plant lots of carrots and battle my turtle against this rabbit, it fits perfectly together! So the already easier encounters got reduced in number to make way for more quests that can’t be failed unless you really tried to.
  • High kill numbers and low quest drops. Remember how you had to collect 15 murloc-this or 20 grizzly-that? Fins, eyes, paws…usually there’s plenty on a single creature, but for some reason only dropped every third enemy? I always imagined my character to be such a huge badass that enemies got beaten to a bloody pulp after most fights, which was why I could usually salvage a murloc eye every couple of fights. Now everything seems to drop instantly, and if it doesn’t Blizzard has implemented a new system with WotLK, increasing drop chances of quest items after a while to guarantee a drop the longer you kill enemies. But in any case, the number of enemies required to kill for a single quest has been reduced by these changes. Again, this makes leveling faster and easier, because less combat means less opportunities to screw up and die.

Well that’s the list for combat related changes, but I’m not done yet.

What’s next? The quests themselves. Questhubs didn’t really exist in the way they do now. Quests were all over the place, there was not a lot of linearity within a single zone and quite often you had to travel back and forth between npcs, towns, zones and continents like crazy. Discovering quests by accident wasn’t uncommon and really knowing a zone took a lot of time. Getting the Collector quest in Elwynn didn’t happen for most players, because the item starting the quest was a rare drop.

Now you enter a zone (you don’t even have to decide where to go next, there are quests for recommended zones in all major cities), accept a quest and you can be assured to get all important quests as followups to finish the entire zone without having to worry about where to get the next quest….or looking for it…putting any effort into this. Now the questing experience is extremely streamlined and where you had to work on your own priorities and quest order, you don’t have to do that anymore, turning a whole low level zone into one or two hours of easy gameplay.

Not having to walk back to NPCs to finish a quest and get the followup or reward is also an issue. I don’t really know when telepathy, long distance wireless communication and teleportation of matter had been made available to the run of the mill quest NPC, but it’s there.

What’s the reward for completing a quest? Well, at the very least some experience points. And that’s another piece of the puzzle. Time for another list of experience related changes and their effect on the leveling difficulty and speed:

  • In order to keep the time to get from level 1 to the maximum level, Blizzard constantly reduces the amount of experience to get from one level to the next, especially when a new expansion gets released, the levels of the previous one require much less experience, but every now and then older content gets reduced further as well.
  • But that’s not enough. Quests in the 1-60 content give more experience than they used to. In addition to the lower xp required to level up, that makes for a much speedier progress.
  • These things didn’t really exist in WoW classic, but now they are everywhere: Buffs that increase your experience for a couple of hours. Especially during World Events, there are sometimes buffs that increase the experience gained through killing and questing. For the past two years we’ve also been given anniversary items which gave an xp boost. Being in a level 6 or higher guild also increases the experience gained by 2×10%.
  • Gaining experience through tradeskills like mining or herbalism didn’t exist either. And it actually made more sense. Now my character gets stronger at fighting enemies by picking flowers…riiiight.
  • Oh, I didn’t mention the account bound items yet. Those are sweet! A full set gives a whooping 50% experience boost. That’s insane, and it makes total sense! Self leveling equipment, better than almost anything available at that level and they also magically make my character gain more experience when doing stuff.

The result of all these changes isn’t just that you can gain almost twice as much XP while not needing as much of it in the first place, speeding up the leveling process by a ridiculous amount. It also affects the difficulty of leveling itself. Let’s not even talk about the account bound gear, which is really powerful and already makes a huge difference. When leveling that fast, a character usually outlevels a zone before he’s halfway through, making the rest a total walk in the park and even aborting all the quests and switching to the next zone doesn’t change that.

 

Seeing the length of the article, I’m considering a third part, but I’m almost there…trust me…just a little more!

Besides actively changing the way we quest, how fast we gain experience and reducing the risk of death by making the character stronger and the enemies weaker, there were also passive changes to the game which actually made a huge difference. I’m talking about the interface itself. What did Blizzard do? Let’s see…

  • This one also fits in the equipment and travel categories, but it’s a part of the interface as well: Bags! Bag space has constantly increased over the years, with bigger bags in every expansion. Bigger bags means less time required to walk back to town and sell vendor trash. Even if you don’t have a high level main to give 4 Netherweave bags to a new alt, Blizzard has put more bags as quest rewards into the game. New characters also have a lot more money so they can quickly afford these bags themselves pretty soon.
  • No more looking for quests, the game does it for you. The minimap has become such a powerful tool, especially for finding quest givers. It used to be, that you couldn’t see “!” or “?” on the minimap. At best you would see a yellow dot when turning in a quest. But for everything else you had to look in buildings and around corners if a quest was hidden there. More time saved
  • Have you ever used the questhelper addon recently? Chances are you haven’t, because Blizzard implemented their own version ingame. This change is pretty drastic as it removes the need to actually know what’s going on. You run up to a questgiver, right click him and click “accept” on the quest page, not reading a single word of the story behind it or the description of the task. You don’t have to. Instead you press “m” and run to the indicated location and usually kill stuff or click something…whatever, just make it quick, time is money. Long before that, quest texts were slowly appearing, as if the NPC was writing them down for you, accompanied by the sound of a quill writing on parchment. You could disable it in the options, making the text appear instantly, but you still had to read it to know what to do and where to go. Now that option is gone altogether and I guess many new players won’t even believe this was actually a thing.

I remember my WoW classic beta experience quite well, especially the quest text parts. People would constantly fill the zone chat with questions about the location of the red crystal in Darkshore because even reading the quest text you only got a rough description of its location, forcing players to explore the area. I don’t think it’s a bad thing…reading, thinking for yourself and exploring the zone. What’s wrong with that? Well, it takes too much time, I don’t want to read! I want to figh…I mean, deliver apples and throw bears on a trampoline.

 

Well, I guess that about sums it up. And I’ve just been talking about people who actually bother to level their characters by themselves. With the recruit a friend program you can easily skip a lot of that and returning players could (can they still?) insta-level one of their characters to 80 instantly. If you still think leveling is as hard as ever, I guess it can’t be helped. But just take a look at the following screenshot.

No recruit a friend cheating, no rested bonus, no heirlooms, no guild bonus, played on a new realm without any other characters and you can probably deduct a couple of hours for AFKing. The only advantage I had was my knowledge of the class. If you think this isn’t real, I’m not going to say “I don’t care”, because I have several hundred screenshots I made all the way from 1-90, to back this up.

About time!

I guess with proper preparation, full xp gear, rested bonus, guild bonus etc. you can get from 1-90 in under 2 days /played. All this makes me wonder…it really seems like Blizzard thinks their questing experience is such a horrible and tedious drag, they have to avoid at all cost. Prevent players from being forced to spend too much time doing their terrible quests. When TBC was released, they didn’t reduce the 1-60 experience, and I was SO looking forward to the future expansions with ever growing leveling times to get to the highest level, because starting a new character would be a commitment and having a maxlevel char 2 or 3 expansions in would be a real feat of strength (achievements…another topic to write about). But it wasn’t meant to be…exactly the opposite happened and most of the play time was banished to the endgame, which seems to have been become the main game with the boring leveling being the tutorial.

Ugh, I need some fresh air, see you tomorrow.