In 2004 World of Warcraft started with a huge world to explore and due to the design and pacing at the time, it took the average player months to get to max level and much longer to explore every nook and cranny, see all zones, complete all quests and maybe even do it on Horde and Alliance sides.
In this post I’ll be focusing on the PvE side of the game, as usual.
Then there were the dungeons that offered a good amount of gameplay time, because you were leveling slow, there was often a good incentive to revisit them, get another level, finish an additional quest you’ve found or hope to find that nice sword you’ve had your eye on.
When you reached max level, finally, you didn’t jump into raiding right away….or ever in quite a lot of cases. There were still a number of max level zones available that offered lore and loot. A bunch of high to max level dungeons (5 or 10 man) were also an option to improve your character further. Then there were questlines like the one for the Dungeon Set and raid attunements had to be completed as well.
Until you were ready for raiding, it took a while. A little bit later into the game, there were smaller raid dungeons, Zul’Gurub and The Ruins of Ahn’Qiraji. The regular 40 man raids offered epic loot and Tier set gear, which took either a ton of luck or a ton of time to complete and you had to progress through the lower tiers in order to be properly geared for the higher ones. Going into Naxx with MC gear was a certain death sentence.
Professions also took a lot of time and effort to complete. Getting recipe drops, farming mats and saving cash to be able to buy everything the trainer offered. Same with the class skills. Those were really expensive and often you had to skip a couple and just get the most essential ones. And don’t get me started on riding. For many people the Lvl40 60% mount (which almost nobody could afford right away at Lvl40 on their first character) lasted a long time after hitting Lvl60, because getting the cash for epic riding took a lot of time and effort.
Anyways, I think you catch my drift. There was always a lot to do if you tried to keep your character in good shape, experience all content and progress from level 1 to 60, through zones and dungeons, eventually reaching 60 and progress from there.
And then came the first expansion: The Burning Crusade.
Everyone was excited. I loved the experience, seeing new zones, learning about what was going on beyond the Dark Portal and getting all the awesome new items, quickly making my character more powerful than ever.
Progression was similar to the Classic experience, albeit slightly more linear, finishing off zone after zone. Character progression was still quite involved as the expansion was structured pretty similar to the Classic experience. So you quested through zones, with plenty of group quests for an extra challenge, blasted your way through fresh dungeons and eventually hit level 70. Here you finished the zones for more gear and lore and started working on the quests to unlock Raids and Heroic dungeons.
Warcraft getting more accessible
But over the course of the expansion a couple of changes were introduced, such as reduced leveling experience from 20-60, increased xp from pre-TBC dungeons, making group content more accessible for solo play, making TBC attunements easier or removing them altogether, providing better gear for Badges of Justice and towards the end of the expansion there was a huge nerf to endgame raid content.
Those changes were made with two goals in mind: In Blizzards mind, the main game now played from 60-70 (or 58-70 to be more precise) so they wanted to get players there as fast as possible, because not only was this content newer and “better”, most of the players were there as well and the developers only wanted to keep the community together it seemed. The other changes were made to keep players together in the endgame. Now, in Classic that was absolutely not the case as each Tier progressed to the next. And in TBC this was also just starting to become a thing. The Badges of Justice initially gave okay-ish rewards to give Heroic-Dungeon players some gearing options and a stepping stone into Karazhan and other raids. With each subsequent major patch, better rewards became available for the badges, surpassing loot from early raids like Karazhan and later almost rivaling loot from the Black Temple. That made a lot of the earlier raid content obsolete or at least easier, if not trivial. So with that system in place, most raiders could quickly gear up to the “current” level and especially players who started late or decided to level another character got a chance to gear up and join their friends in the end game.
That all sounds pretty reasonable, right? There’s new content to explore, so players should see it and endgame is exciting but catching up or gearing up other people’s characters is boring, so why not bring everyone to a similar level and let them enjoy the latest raid content?
From todays perspective it kind of makes sense, because leveling your x-th character through the same old trivial boring content gets old really fast and you can only enjoy Duskwood so many times before you start hating it with a vengeance.
But back then the game wasn’t designed around that, at least in Classic it wasn’t. The huge, unprecedented and unexpected popularity of Warcraft has most likely contributed heavily towards the changes Blizzard made to their progression philosophy.
Okay, that’s enough for today. I’ve only started and given a short overview about the way the game used to play and the first subtle changes towards todays gameplay. In the next part I’ll quickly go over the following expansions and how they made more adjustments to the changes that started with the Burning Crusade expansion.