Sunday, January 21, 2018

On The Highway Bypass

Blizz rolled out level scaling with the most recent patch, about three expacs later than they originally proposed it.*

However, if you were thinking that level scaling would operate in a similar fashion to that presented on, say, SWTOR, you're in for a surprise.

When I think "level scaling" that means that an implementation similar to that found on SWTOR, where if you have outleveled a zone the game artificially lowers your level down to an arbitrary maximum for the entire zone/planet. If you're in an instance, you're leveled up to the current level cap and your gear/abilities/etc. are scaled up to said level cap. This means everybody is roughly the same "level" in a zone, and eliminates the occasional "surprise!" overleveled area in a zone.**

Blizz has implemented a different level scaling system, which is meant to allow a player to avoid certain zones entirely. The idea is a bit more complicated than the SWTOR implementation, where the quests and enemies scale to your level and not the other way around. Additionally, the scaling in the Vanilla area can get a bit confusing as you progress. Go to this link from Wowhead to get the basics of where leveling happens.

From Wowhead. Yeah, I think it odd that Hillsbrad
goes all the way up to 60. Gives a whole new meaning
to those old gankathons on PvP servers at Tarren Mill
and Southshore.

Given the way that Kotaku explained it, you'd get the feeling that story has pretty much been thrown out the window so you can avoid "boring" zones such as the BC leveling zones.

"If you were looking to get into World of Warcraft (or return with a new character), now’s a great time to do it. 

Check out all the changes coming in update 7.3.5, including new questlines and an enhanced S.E.L.F.I.E. camera, in the official patch notes."***

I think that Kotaku is kind of missing the forest for the trees. WoW already had story issues without this level scaling implementation, and now this implementation of level scaling means an acknowledgement that story and questing in the lower zones really don't matter as much as getting you to current content.

As I've said before, WoW's biggest advantage over every other MMO is not the size of its playerbase**** but that it has such a large play area. However, Blizzard's focus on the current expac and raids have imposed external limitations on the size of the WoW universe. Cataclysm's breakage of the storyline continuity made the situation worse, Now, between the "instant L90" (currently "instant L100") that Blizz instituted for Warlords of Draenor and the level scaling, Blizzard has de facto admitted that the leveling zones are merely bumps on the road to get up to speed with the current expac.

If anything, this is a problem imposed by the WoW MMO culture rather than a top down Blizzard design decision. Blizz doesn't really do anything without enough of a desire present in the playerbase, and since the playerbase is primarily oriented toward the current end game Blizzard's changes are designed to get a new toon to the endgame as quickly and painlessly as possible. You can skip the parts you don't like and zip straight to the parts you do like. The thing I find kind of odd about this is that Northrend, Outland, and the Cata zones all had multiple pathways to get you to max level, so if you didn't like Zangarmarsh you could go to Terokkar Forest. Didn't like Borean (Boring) Tundra? Head to Howling Fjord instead. Sure, these provide more options, but it's not like there weren't a lot of options to begin with.

But in the end, I do find it kind of funny that the level scaling allows people to bypass Cataclysm entirely and go straight on to Pandaria; if it weren't for Cataclysm in the first place we'd not necessarily have to have this version of level scaling around.

*A version of this was originally proposed for Cataclysm, and I looked at the possibility with a great deal of interest. I'd be able to play with friends who were at max level on other servers but without them having to create a new alt just for that purpose.

**Getting one shot in some areas of, say, Alderaan and Tatooine teaches you to avoid certain areas like the plague. Still, trying to explain to the noob not to go over that specific hill can be more trouble than its worth.

***From that Kotaku article.

****Which is now an unknown anyway.

*****with the exception of the Wrathgate in Northrend that you pretty much had to do in order to progress to the end of the Northrend questlines.


  1. I love skipping Catalcysm. If I had to do the quest line for the guy in Hyjal who's in an outhouse one more time...grrr I hate him....I'd go bonkers.

    1. That outhouse quest was a reference to the original outhouse quest in Searing Gorge from old Vanilla WoW, so I guess it never bothered me too much. What annoyed me the most about Cata --outside of breaking story continuity-- was what was left on the table. Vashj was left unfinished, the raid meant for there never completed, and the final part of the main questline there was broken on release and --as far as I know-- still never really fixed. You can still have it not work some of the time. For a company that prides itself on releasing a polished product, how that sort of thing would happen is beyond me.

  2. I'm currently running a mage in the 40s. Before patch 7.3.5, I had just finished an Uldaman run and was looking for a zone to quest in, but mostly had resigned myself to dungeon runs and farming cloth for Tailoring (was a bit behind). After the patch, I started a fresh shaman, leveled to 14, then decided to see how things were back on the mage. I queued for a dungeon and dropped pretty fast into another Uldaman run. It was much slower, mob health was higher, I even saw the last boss summon every add type he could instead of maybe the first. I didn't even net a level from the run, where I had got one before I turned the quests in on the run before the patch.

    The same character had quests left over in Ghostlands, so I headed back out there and finished the zone. Everything scaled; mobs, gear drops, quest reward items, but not really xp. Things took a long time to kill, regardless if I was 14 or 47. She finished the zone with about 5 levels (mid 48 after starting mid 43, nearly full Heirlooms). So interestingly enough, you can probably do every low level zone if you want and get awfully close to 60.

    Chat was more active. People were asking for help. Elite quests were harder again. Not Classic/BC hard, maybe more Wrath hard, but Dar'khan was not a pushover.

    While I loved every minute of it, if you are thinking of leveling fast, it's so not. And I might change my mind, it's already feeling a bit grindy. As for the story problems in the zones that Cataclysm created, that may never be fixed. I guess short of retooling everything, I'm not sure how you can. It's a bit of a mixed bag now, where you can finish all of the quests in a zone, but you probably won't clear every zone, what with the lvl 60 cap on zones in Classic, and the monotony of some of the zones *cough*NorthBarrens*cough*.

    1. Thanks for the report, Matt.

      What elite quests are left in the Old World outside of the BC areas? I know that the two abominations are still around in Ghostlands --as is Dar'khan-- but I thought the Blood Elf Commander in Bloodmyst Isle was nerfed to a normal enemy.

      If the XP doesn't flow with the difficulty, that makes me wonder where the point of emphasis was. Options is one thing, but there were already options to begin with. Perhaps Blizz tweaks the XP results, and maybe not. But your pointing out the grindy nature of the leveling makes me wonder whether a side benefit to this change is that it allows Blizz to see how current WoW players handle more Vanilla-esque difficulty.

    2. Unless they have added some back in, I don't think there are any elites in the non-BC Old World. In some ways, it seems like they did this backwards; steady nerfing of old content through Cataclysm, and now they are reintroducing difficulty, but this isn't the first time they've made a difficulty pass. They did a bit after Mists when they did the stat squish. Dungeon bosses had health increased and some NPCs had their health and difficulty increased, but they are no longer flagged as elite. Sirona, Matis the Cruel and the spider Zarakh all fall into this category; quest targets, not easy to kill, but still not as bad as at BC release.

      I think the grindiness I was mentioning yesterday is the inability to out-level some areas just enough to not constantly pull aggro. A good example would be the Satyrs on Bloodmyst in Axxarien. It's a smallish cluster of pretty tightly packed mobs, and some run when they get low, pulling others. It's kind of easy to stumble into it at lower level and was pretty easy to die. Usually you just have to wait till you are close in level, or a bit above and the aggro issues are mitigated enough. I wonder how they feel now. I'll have to level something and check it out. There's a quest objective at the back end of it and I wonder if you'll have to kill everything to get to it. When I took my mage to kill Dar'khan, I had to kill almost everything on my way in that I couldn't outrange.

    3. I remember the stat squish in Mists, but I didn't think it was that bad as people made it out to be. But that intro zone into Pandaria was rough if you only did PvP on a toon (like I did with my Rogue). I remember sneaking around and pulling as if I were in Age of Conan --which is still lethal as multiple mobs can and will aggro all the time-- because more than one mob would kill me off, which was not the experience I had with Wrath or Cata.

      That grindiness you describe is a good sort of grindiness, where you still have to fight through areas on a regular basis and not simply zip around in a speed blitz through the zone. Of course, level scaling should have taken care of that as part of the entire premise, but I'm still surprised at the non scaling of XP rewards. Perhaps it is a way to challenge toons after all, but it read on Kotaku like it was simply a method of avoiding Outland in your blitz to Legion.

  3. A slight clarification, the xp is going up, but it seems they throttled back on it a bit more than the difficulty curve, so that it seems like you are a bit behind for the work you are doing compared to what leveling in what a current xpac it like. The last two have been pretty "flat"; i.e. 90-100 and 100-110 felt (if they weren't) as though each level is the same amount of xp, while the new ones are a bit behind for a 10 level bracket. But I am still on low level characters, so we'll see ^_^