Last time we talked about the relevant content in World of Warcraft Classic and the changes made to the progression system in the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Today I’d like to continue evaluating the remaining expansions and talk about how these changes are hurting the “World” in World of Warcraft immensely.
Alright, after TBC made a number of changes that allowed players to catch up on content faster, the following expansions took those changes even further.
In 2008 we got the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. Eventually the usual changes happened. Leveling XP of the outdated content was reduced to get players faster to the endgame. The Badge of Justice system was enhanced with multiple tiers of tokens and improved gear from that currency with each new raid tier. The LFG tool was introduced to allow for faster dungeon running and raids were available in 10 and 25 man sizes with normal and heroic difficulties respectively. Now it was not only easier for everyone to get their gear ready for the new raids but the raids themselves were also way more accessible. Sure, not everyone cleared heroic raids, but the new 10 man normals were usually pretty puggable.
Another huge change was introduced: Heirlooms. These items leveled with your character until the starting level of the current expansion. They were more powerful than quest rewards, on par with dungeon loot, and they gave a boost to your experience, which greatly increased leveling speed. With all these changes a new player was suddenly able to level at a really high-speed from 1 to 70 and once the character hit 80, it was also much easier to skip the outdated raids and get into the most recent content. Great!
Cataclysm kept to these changes and introduced a new raid tier at the end of the expansion, LFR. Since the heroic dungeons from Burning Crusade weren’t difficult anymore, especially with overgeared players due to easily accessible high level loot, the step up from solo or 5-man content up to normal raiding was getting pretty steep. LFR was a no-brains-required opportunity for players to see all the content quickly. No need to gear up a lot, great. Of course after finishing LFR, there were higher difficulties available, but for a lot of players, the incentive to join a raiding guild, get geared up and improve their gameplay was just not there. They saw the content, they’ve experienced the story and got loot much better than almost all other PvE content in the entire game could provide.
It’s slightly off topic, but here’s an interesting video by Preacher, that touches on that subject:
But that’s just as a side note, as I don’t want to get into the main topic of the video in this article.
Let’s continue with the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Now LFR was available right from the start. With each expansion also came new heirlooms and lowered experience required to level until the previous expansion’s max level. Catching up to current content was easier than ever and you’d spend less and less time in older expansions with each new content release. Getting from 1-60 originally took weeks of gameplay time, now it could be done in mere hours, because there still was a lot of outdated content ahead of you before you came to the new stuff, so Blizzard wanted to get you through that as quickly as possible.
After Mists followed the current expansion: Warlords of Draenor. In order to completely eliminate the problem of catching up, which was especially present for returning players from one or two expansions before, they introduced pre-made characters that were ready to start fresh at the current content. So with the purchase of the Expansion you could boost one of your characters to the previous maximum level (90) or create a fresh lvl90 and skip all that outdated stuff, join your friends and enjoy the new and exciting world. Great! So many quality of life improvements.
The next expansion, Legion, will continue to offer boosted Characters, this time of course at level 100, so you can start at the fresh Legion content and don’t have to bother with the old level 1-100 stuff anymore.
More thoughts on World of Warcraft content
Since Wrath of the Lich King, twinking became increasingly popular with each expansion. People hit max level faster, got geared more quickly and of course got bored sooner. So they often started a new character. With each expansion they got to the current content sooner and created new characters more often and after a while the leveling content became boring. So Blizzard made it easier and faster to complete, easier to gear up, resulting in players leveling even faster to max level and getting bored even more, creating a vicious cycle of content devaluation.
With the original leveling and gearing speed in place, players would take much longer until they felt the need to create a new character. Content would last much longer and be much more relevant to more players. It would stay fresh longer, especially the leveling zones and dungeons.
The base game and six expansions over ten years. Dozens of Zones, Dungeons and Raids with questing content for two factions, multiple difficulties and an enormous amount of lore. Starting now, the game should offer months if not years of content until everything has been experienced and the current end game is in reach. Instead players get rushed to max level, skipping tons of content and even most of the endgame except for the most recent raids and that makes me really sad.
Now, it’s expected for veteran players that they have an advantage and replay content more quickly, but it should still be a meaningful journey where you learn to play your character and experience the world and lore. I know, I know, if you’ve played Westfall 20 times it’s not interesting anymore, but that’s the point. If it wasn’t so fast, you wouldn’t make 20 new characters. Maybe one or two and by the time you start a new one, Westfall is only a distant memory and you can experience it with a more nostalgic mindset instead of “Ugh, this again!”. And think of the new players! They don’t even know what they’re missing as they get pushed to higher levels past zones, dungeons, lore, raids and class learning opportunities in record time.
So, with each expansion you’re able to finish the previous content faster, by being able to skip more of it. The previous high level/endgame zones and content are completely irrelevant when a new expansion hits.
My problem with WoW expansions is, that they don’t actually EXPAND the game! Sure there’s more content, but it’s at the cost of all previous content. The expansion content is basically the only content that’s relevant, for a while, and even within the expansion patches content is made obsolete. Relative to the total amount of content, each expansion actually makes the game smaller if we assume that the current expansion is the only relevant content.
It’s so sad, because Blizzard puts a ton of work into the game. Even the worst zones in the worst expansion is made with care and attention to detail. Artists, composers, writers, programmers…every single zone has been made with god knows how many man hours and Blizzard themselves make you rush by all that content or skip it altogether. And in the end they complain that players consume content too fast, leading to months and months of content draught, because people are bored as the developers can’t create new content fast enough. Of course, if you let everyone skip everything, there’s not going to be enough content to keep players motivated.
Back when TBC was about to be released and the journey from 1-60 took weeks, I was thinking that TBC would just add more gameplay hours from 60-70 and I was looking forward to future expansions increasing the time and effort required to go from lvl 1 to 70,80 or whatever. But Blizzard tries to keep that time as low as possible, so 1-100 is now way faster than 1-60 was in Classic. Even without character boost or heirlooms.
I think this is one of the main problems of MMORPGs. Keeping content relevant. Players will inevitably get stronger and starting zones will eventually become irrelevant for stronger characters. Different MMOs have different approaches to the topic.
Next time we’ll talk about what Blizzard already did to make at least some of the old content relevant again. Because, they’re not stupid, but steering a massive project like WoW is kind of difficult and it’s impossible to please everyone.
I’ll also have a little overview on all the content in the game and how it’s still relevant…or not.