On Tuesday, WoW rolled out a huge game-changing feature — most zones now scale to the player.
To be a little bit more precise:
The vanilla zones generally scale from whatever their original starting level was to 60. (So Duskwood, instead of being 20-30, is now 20-60). Starter zones like Elwynn Forest or Bloodmyst Isle scale to 20.
At 60, you can choose to go to either Outland or Northrend, or a mix of both — all these zones scale from 60-80.
At 80, you can choose to do Cataclysm or Pandaria content — all these zones scale from 80-90.
The Draenor zones scale 90-100.
The Broken Isles still scale 100-110 exactly like they did before.
(More details on Icy Veins).
The less-anticipated part of this change was: the amount of XP required for each level was increased, and the health of mobs was increased to 300-400% that of the player. Heirloom gear was made less powerful (in terms of primary and secondary stats), and playing Random Dungeon Roulette through the group finder is no longer the fastest way to level.
As you might imagine, player reaction to these changes is all over the map. Some people are convinced this makes it impossible to reach “the real game” (i.e. endgame, what you do at 110); that this is a scheme by evil Blizzard to get people to buy character boosts. And then on the exact opposite end, some folks like how it hearkens back to classic, where leveling was occasionally challenging! Where players communicated with each other! Where you learned how to play, because not everything fell over when you looked at it! Where people used CC and didn’t pull the entire dungeon at once! Where the men were men and the sheep were all Defias bandits…
… er, I lost track of that metaphor somewhere.
ANYWAY. All this prompted me to do my own research. I only have three characters at max level, so there are a goodly number of classes I still need to level. My “research” was done on two different characters. Both are decked out in heirlooms (I even have the fishing tournament ring!) Previous to 7.3.5, they leveled largely by doing random dungeons through the LFG tool; after the change, exclusively via quests.
(I appreciate this is not exactly comparing apples to apples, but by all accounts leveling in dungeons is no longer the fastest way to level).
My first “research assignment”
… was a fire mage who was 47 when the changes rolled out. I had leveled her to about 20 through questing, and after that with a mix of quests and dungeons, when I could get them (queues being what they are for dps classes). Honestly most of her playtime has been sitting in Stormwind disenchanting stuff for my other toons!
When 7.3.5 rolled out, I started by heading to Eastern Plaguelands grabbing one of the Fiona caravan quests. Along the way I run into plaguebats… who are my level, and who no longer melt as soon as I look at them. I used to be able to kill these guys with a single Fireball and Fire Blast. Now? I pretty much have to unload my whole arsenal into them — and if I grab more than one, things get hairy.
I’m soon perfecting the Fireball-from-max-range, Fireball, Frost Nova, Blink and turn, Fireball, Dragon’s Breath for the disorient, Fireball (plus hope for a crit, Fire Blast, Pyroblast) rotation. Which… is basically fire mage right there. (Though… with not really enough crit to make it work properly).
So I guess you could say that I’m learning my rotation better than I did when it was “what spells can I cast before this thing dies?” And I like that. I like feeling like leveling has danger.
I also like that I’m experiencing the story of EPL before I level out of it. I am making a point of reading the quest descriptions, of listening to the banter between Fiona and Gidwin and Taeranar. I’m eager to see where this blood elf/dwarf paladin bromance will go. This feels like how the zones were intended to be experienced — as a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than a story that cuts off in the middle when you realize you’re not getting any XP from mob kills any more. I imagine if I’d done this a million times before, I’d feel differently, but given my odd playing history, I’ve never gotten to finish post-Cata EPL before!
But… at the end of the day, it’s just slower. I don’t have precise numbers for this character, but I played for several hours and still didn’t get her to 50, which was my goal. (So that she could at least learn the next level of enchanting!) So that was disappointing — like suddenly I’m leveling through molasses, when yesterday I was zipping around.
As an aside, I played more during vanilla than I did at any other time in the history of WoW. As a result I recall exactly what vanilla was like, and I have very little nostalgia for it. And this? This feels like vanilla soloing as a clothie.
(Granted, with the benefit of a lot of the conveniences that have been introduced since then, i.e. better quest placement, better drop rates, more than one graveyard per zone, a toy that gives you all the flight paths, more bag space, etc).
More research was necessary
My next character, a prot pally, was 45 when the changes hit. I play her beside my husband’s second monk (pandaren, not dwarf, this time). I had soloed her through the draenei starting zones up until 15; then we had pretty much chain-queued random dungeons as a tank and healer up until 45. After 7.3.5, we decided to hit up Duskwood, since I remembered liking that zone in vanilla, and I hadn’t done more than a few quests there since Cata.
First of all, this was easier than leveling my fire mage — because I had twice the damage thanks to my pocket monk, and because melee damage tends to be front-loaded. By the time slow pally catches up to less-slow monk, a single Avenger’s Shield and Judgment was usually enough to finish things off.
Second thing I noticed — Darkshire was inhabited again.
Like there were people of all levels wandering about.
Questing. In the world.
Not endlessly queuing random dungeons.
This is so bloody rare in this era of the game. The only time I remember running into other players when I was leveling my last 110 was in Outland, which still retained a lot of this feel, even pre-7.3.5. (And which was miiiiiiiserable). Some random dude actually messaged my husband to ask how he had the monk class mount (that is awarded at the end of the Legionfall campaign, at 110) on his level 45 monk. (At which he had to explain his main is monk, too).
However… the slowness of eeeeeeverything was starting to wear on me here. I wanted to read the Legend of Stalvan quest text; I remembered it being really neat in vanilla, and it apparently didn’t change much in Cata. But my eyes would just keep glazing over and honestly I couldn’t tell you anything about it today except that there were some slashed letters in a worgen camp.
And if they are going to return to the classic speed of leveling? By god, they need to fix the drop rates on some of these quests. I did not need to spend an hour searching for six Dusky Lumps. (Although without this we might not have started singing “my lovely spider lumps,” to the tune of a certain Black Eyed Peas song. Which, yanno, is Something).
As for a more objective assessment: when I hit 46 after turning in a bunch of quests at the end of the evening, my /played time for that character was 11.5 hours, with one hour of that being at level 45. My fast and loose napkin math (assuming all levels take equal time, which isn’t entirely accurate) is that leveling time has increased from 14 mins per level to one hour per level.
Four times slower. That’s… a bit absurd.
Leveling unquestionably takes much longer now, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Sometimes it feels fun and yet challenging; sometimes it’s just tedious. I imagine for new players, it may be more compelling, but for more experienced players who want another 110, Right Now, it will be annoying. I’m not hurting for cash, so if I really need another character to be 110 Right the Hell Now, I suspect it’s a problem I will throw $60 at. Maybe that’s intentional.
Also I will like this change SO MUCH MORE when I get to 60 and realize I never ever have to see Outland ever again.
I also suspect that this will be tuned in some way. There’s another big maintenance coming tomorrow; maybe some changes will roll out with that. At the very least maybe I will stop dying in raid due to Portal Keeper Hasabel’s endlessly flashing beam of death.