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Retrospective: Leveling in a Post 4.0.3 Azeroth

January 17, 2011

I started my druid pretty shortly after 4.0.3 launched on the live servers. It was a class that I hadn’t played since the olden days of closed beta of Classic, and I hadn’t given it a fair shake since starting into Darkshore back in the dark ages. So, with a little trepidation, I created my character and began to level him. I did some battlegrounds, and a fair amount of questing to get him started, but when the Cataclysm struck, I took a break to do one of the other classes that I had an interest in – a hunter.

As more people began playing and the prospect of doing some guild stuff took off, I recognized the need for a tank… so back to the druid I went. I think he was languishing somewhere before Outland content, and I have to tell you, that was a push. Outland and Northrend feel so out of touch with the unified design that the rest of the game displays. I’ll come back to that though.

This post should probably be two, but I’m wanting to get both sets of thoughts out at once. The following are the things I liked and disliked while leveling to 85.

Five Things I Liked

  1. Coherent Plots in the New Content
    When Naithin said that someone over at Blizzard had read a book recently, I laughed. However, I think it’s definitely true. Someone over at Blizzard said, “We need plots to tie things together into a coherent experience.” Well, the new zones really handle that well. From Darkshore – where you’re trying to stop an old god from being brought back to life – to the Blasted Lands – where you’re trying to prevent a demon from re-entering Azeroth – there are some involved plot lines that you, as a player, get to take a prominent place. It’s a huge change from the days of, “Go collect 15 wolf pelts. No, there’s no reason, just get them pelts!”
  2. Well Itemized Gear
    This is something that was a terrible thing to work through while leveling an alt. The rise of Heirloom gear seemed to address the need that became apparent somewhere in the middle of TBC. There were specific items that specializations needed, but the items themselves didn’t seem to be present in Quest rewards or Dungeon loot tables. Ever look at a piece of cloth gear from Classic and think, “Why does it have strength and spirit on it?” When you’re leveling another character and you have trouble picking quest rewards because none of them really help you, you feel like you’re not improving. Heirlooms really were there to reduce the amount of gear that you’re picking up while leveling through old content (and yes, make it faster, but that’s not up for contention here… leveling is silly fast now), and to ensure that you had a few pieces of gear that were appropriately itemized no matter your leveling preference. Well, now, you don’t really “need” the heirlooms, aside from the 20% experience boost if you have the chest piece and the shoulders. The quest rewards are all very well itemized, and I didn’t really see anything that left me scratching my head.
  3. Logical Progression Between Quest Hubs
    Thank goodness for plot coherency. In order to advance a plot, sometimes a character has to embark upon a journey. Quest hubs are the plot points that tie together your character’s journey through Azeroth. With the added emphasis on story telling, Blizzard tightened up on telling you exactly when to progress. I’m really appreciative of this, as it pretty much eliminated the guess work of going into a new zone (I know I have my favorite leveling zones, so when I venture out of them I get lost). This not only reduced the confusion that new players may experience, but it helped keep the pacing that more experienced players would like.
  4. Flying in Azeroth
    I’m spoiled as a druid player. I press a button and take off. When working on gathering up a bunch of herbs, this makes life awesome. When I needed to go back and gather a bunch of Sungrass to level Alchemy, I flew around Arathi Highlands. If I had been riding around, it would have taken easily double the amount of time I needed to do my circuits. Throw in the ability to hop over hostile groups of monsters? Yeah, that’s really, really, really nice.
  5. Dungeon Aesthetics
    This is more about the newer dungeons. I really like the diversity in them this go around. In Classic, there were a few standout dungeons (Dire Maul and Zul’gurub) that seemed to break the mold on aesthetics. They weren’t dimly lit miasma’s of packs of baddies is what I’m trying to say. In The Burning Crusade, the aesthetics changed to suit the new areas, and some of them were really good (Underbog and the stuff around the Arcatraz… oh, and Magister’s Terrace). Wrath didn’t have all that many that were aesthetically pleasing, but in Cataclysm we have Vortex Pinnacle, Throne of Tides, and… well, those are the ones I’ve seen that I like. I’m going to try to do Grim Batol, Halls of Origination, and the Lost City this week, but if the dungeon aesthetics match the zone aesthetics, I’m going to be pleased.

Now, we’re on to the things I wasn’t as much a fan of. I’m going to include some thoughts on how to improve these aspects of the game with these. The aspects above can be improved, too, but I’d rather focus on tightening up things that are weaker.

Five Things I Didn’t Like

  1. Going Through Northrend and Outlands
    The transition between Azeroth and Outlands is a little wonky. The gear curve resets dramatically and so does the story telling. I know that Blizzard would like to go back and fix some of this, but until it happens, there really isn’t all that much that can be done. The thing that was a little staggering, though, was transitioning back to Northrend. I’ve done Northrend five times now, and I really have come to loathe it more and more. Some parts are handled really well, like the first zones. The Fjord and the Tundra feel really coherent and tight. However, as soon as you begin to transition out of them, things start tearing at the seams. 

    How can Blizzard improve this aspect of the game? There’s no quick fix here, and they’ve already acknowledged that these two parts of the world are now a lot weaker than they’d like. Outland is just… out there. That’s where I’d focus my time, if I had to pick one of the two to do. Northrend isn’t so bad, but it does feel like it takes a long time to chew through. As well, the experience curve seems to take a wonky turn around 78. Retune the experience rewards for Northrend, and I think it will be better. I know that they reduced the amount of experience required, but that’s not the same thing as making the quests line up with it a little better.

  2. Attitudes in the Dungeon Finder
    I’ve had some peaches over the course of leveling. Some DPS (when I was tanking) were just flailing about wildly when I was pacing the group at what I thought was reasonable. Some tanks just had no idea how to tank. Most of the healers I had were really good. Even when I wasn’t tanking (as I lost my patience [and I didn’t want my blood pressure to go up anymore] around Wrath dungeons), the DPS seem to just… I don’t know, not care? Trash talk? I didn’t encounter anyone as near as abusive as the person Anexxia encountered, but people out there will surprise you. 

    How can Blizzard improve this aspect of the game? I know this isn’t for Blizzard to fix, but they need to find some way for you to rate the people you’re playing with. I hate to say that X-box Live is doing something right, but they are. You can review players, and as you do, it refines the types of players you like to see and creates kind of an internal system to pair you with people that meet your criteria. If you give someone a negative review, it affects their status with you and gives the moderators someone to watch. If you give them a positive review, then it affects your likelihood to play with them again. It makes sense to do something similar on LFD.

  3. Phasing
    I’m actually a big fan of phasing… until it gets in the way of playing the game. We saw this in Icecrown in Wrath. We’re seeing it again in Uldum. I love flying around Uldum trying to gather some herbs, only to see the node disappear because it isn’t in the same phase I am. Totally awesome. I saw it in Icecrown and the Storm Peaks before. Now, it starts to rear its head in Cataclysm. 

    How can Blizzard improve this aspect of the game? The easiest fix I see is to make the areas affected by phasing smaller. Pieces and parts of the terrain are ok, but in Uldum, it feels like more than two thirds of the zone is affected in some way by phasing. Between the Ramakhen and Harrison Jones, there’s a lot that shapes the way that zone looks to a player. When used effectively, the technology is great. However, it seems like the technology can also hamper the player experience.

  4. Dungeon Redesign Spotiness
    Alright, some of these are great. The new Stockades? Yeah, totally awesome. Hogger is a boss. The new Shadowfang Keep? Oh goodness, yes. Blackrock Depths… not so much. Lower Blackrock Spire? Guh, I just can’t bring myself to go in there. All the instances that lower level players do, they seem to go really well (aside from the Wailing Caverns, but that place was always a shithole). It just feels like some of them are still rambling messes even with the quests directing you to specific parts of them. 

    How can Blizzard improve this aspect of the game? Cut instances into pieces and make separate entrances for them. Remove some more of the trash packs. Make them conform to the design standards that we saw in Wrath and become cemented in Cataclysm. The Burning Crusade dungeons aren’t too bad. Maybe reduce a few of the trash packs in the Underbog and Slave Pens. There just needs to be someone to go through some of these a little more closely and get them to line up from top to bottom.

  5. Guild Leveling Focus
    The focus of guild leveling is clearly on folks that are at level cap. No ifs ands or buts about it. When we started into leveling in Cataclysm zones, the guild experience bar just flew up. I know that this is directly tied into quest experience, but doing dungeons as a group is really something that’s hard to do when your players are spread out. The option is to go back and do content that a few people can’t get any rewards from or not do anything. I’m really disappointed with how this is being handled. The low level players don’t get anything out of banding together, and that’s probably not what Blizzard is going for. 

    How can Blizzard improve this aspect of the game? Well, they’re reducing the number of people needed to form Guild Runs, so that should help. Three people doing dungeon runs won’t be enough to level the guild, but it will certainly help a little. My idea is to retune the quest rewards percentage going to guild experience, and for Blizzard to recalculate the amount of experience needed for each level. The cap idea is fine. Blizzard needs to find a way to tune it so the progression lines up for small guilds and large guilds without people take advantage of the system.

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