World Of Warcraft Will Reduce Everyone's Level To Avoid A 'Grind'

After 15 years and seven expansions, World of Warcraft has become the content equivalent of a foot-tall (not -long) sandwich constructed by an overly ambitious stoner. At this point, it’s teetering under the weight of pieces that, in hindsight, don’t really fit. That’s why the World of Warcraft team has decided to cut the levelling experience down to size.

The game’s eighth expansion, Shadowlands, will introduce what developer Blizzard is calling a “level squish.” The current maximum level of 120 will be reduced to 50, and at the same time, the game will receive a new starting experience that lets players hit the ground running in an all-new area and learn the basics alongside other neophytes. Then, once they hit level ten, they’ll be set loose in WoW’s current most recent expansion, Battle For Azeroth, to level up to 50 and learn the story so far. Immediately after hitting 50, they’ll dive straight into Shadowlands.

This is a big change from the previous progression, which saw players wind their way through multiple expansions, some of which have not aged well. More recently, the WoW team introduced level scaling to older zones, which allows players to vary up the order in which they time-warp through the game’s increasingly distant past. But it was still a lot to ask new players to grapple with, so that’s why it’s changing.

“Through countless playtests and also hearing from our own friends, it can be a little daunting for someone to come into WoW for the first time,” executive producer John Hight told Kotaku at BlizzCon. “Asking players to traverse through all of our many expansions and especially trying to have an even level experience [is a tall order]. So if you’ve never played WoW, or maybe it’s been many, many years since you played WoW, you start a level one character, we’re going to put you in a carefully crafted experience not just by yourself, but with fellow newbs... You’ll naturally hopefully form a lot of good friendships and connections in that. You won’t be subject to high-level players ganking you when you should be learning the basics.”

This new approach, Hight and company hope, will not only be simpler, but also more satisfying. 120 is a lot of levels, and currently, cool abilities and other unlocks are spread pretty thinly between them. The new 1-50 progression, on the other hand, should give players something to look forward to every time they level up.

“We want to make sure that, when you level, you get something cool,” said Hight. “An ability. It isn’t just ‘ding’ and a light goes off. You’re gonna have something new to do as a result of it. You’re chasing something.”

For those of you who love big numbers and wear them as badges of pride, this might be a bit distressing. Fifty, after all, is a much smaller number than 120. At this point, though, it’s largely an aesthetic difference. “You’ll have the same power,” said Hight. “Your power versus the things you were battling the moment before will be the same.”

The new system will also, the team expects, feel faster and less grind-y. Basically, instead of climbing a winding staircase up to new expansion content, you’ll be riding an escalator.

“That was some of the feedback we were getting as we started the scaling efforts back in Legion, is that scaling is good and offers more flexibility, but overall it feels too slow,” said senior game designer Johnny Cash. Levelling to 50, he noted, will be “overall faster” than the steep trudge to 120.

If you’re not a new player, you’ll also have the option to pick which expansion you go through to level up to 50. Maybe you prefer Wrath of the Lich King’s story or Legion’s environments, for example. Regardless, every expansion should take roughly the same amount of time to complete.

“It’s not gonna be a grind,” said Hight. “Our goal is to have it be a fun experience and about the same time duration no matter which expansion you choose.”

This approach could divide the game’s player base, but Hight isn’t too worried about that potential consequence of overhauling things so significantly.

“We have the technology to bring people together,” he said. “You can play cross-realm. So hopefully [under-population] won’t be an issue. But if you’re playing an alt, you should have some established social groups. And if you’re a brand new player, that’s one of the reasons we’re directing all players to the same Battle For Azeroth experience.”

Ultimately, the goal is to make the whole process a fun ride instead of a dull grind. “You’re always getting something, whether it’s a content unlock or a buff to an ability,” said Cash. “So between those things, it should be a more satisfying experience reach max level.”


Comments

    This, more than anything, tells me they've learned nothing from the success of Classic.

    You take away the leveling up experience and you take away any connection/engagement the player has with their character.

    You may as well say "New Player? Here is your lvl 50 Shaman. His name is Shaman8767."

    Plus, you get a heap of noobs trying to tell you they're ready for end game content when they have no idea how most of their skills work - and they're dressed in tattered rags.

      I see this both ways.
      I am not a WOW player. I started years ago and played to like level 10 then stopped.
      So take this from someone as a newb perspective.
      I always thought WOW was a bit daunting to play now.
      This is definitely something that would make me think about playing (if I didn't want a social life :P )
      Knowing I was likely around other first-timers, that there was a space I could learn how things worked and my skills and get to a decent level without a lot of grind this would be really attractive. I mean it is really attractive to me now
      However, I play a fair bit of D3.
      And one of things I found was once you hit end game with one character and it was easier to level up your others you did sometimes lose that time that let you get to know your skills.
      To figure out how the fitted into your play style.
      So I could see that being an issue if you level up too quickly.
      It will be interesting to see how it works.

        I dont think halving the amount of levels will make current WoW any less convoluted and confusing.

        You will still see someone with an item you want and give up after trying to figure out exactly which reps/currency/dailies you need to do in what order to reach it.

          Good point. Unless they're boosting rep gain it makes a hell of a lot of the items useless. Almost every expansion had levelling gear (or catch up gear for raids) on vendors and gated by rep. As it stands now, if you're levelling you won't buy most of that gear because you outlevel the zones before getting enough rep to buy it.

          Even if you can level 10-50 in a zone from what they're saying that will be so fast you *still* won't be able to get enough rep to buy those pieces. So the best you can hope for is to come back at max level and grind out the rep for xmogs.

          Similarly, with the stat squish that's already happened combined with a level squish there is very little in the way of item upgrades. In a ten level xpac you'd get an upgrade every couple levels, then 3-7 upgrades over endgame (dungeons, raids, etc). And each upgrade would be a small but ultimately noticeable improvement.

          With these changes there is basically no difference between the piece of gear you got at the start of WoD and the top piece of raid gear from WoD. While it's in theory not a big deal since you're levelling and ultimately going to leave the area (and may not even get that top piece of raid gear since no one is doing WoD raids anyway) it removes some of the enjoyment in levelling. The "ooh look at this upgrade moments" are going to be reduced.

          That or we'll see weirdness where the same item scales from level 10 to level 50 depending what level you got it. So someone will have a crappy level 10 sword and others will have an amazing level 50 sword named exactly the same. Which could lead to more weirdness like skipping early quests because you can do it at max level and the scaled item is amazing.

      progression wise personally I don't see how this takes away the leveling experience

      right now leveling one of allied race alt as a healer, I would get a new spell every 3 or 4 levels till about 60. some of those will change how I heal, some will be utterly useless. from 60 onward there's barely any new addition then I think 80 / 85 I get my mastery and then after that nothing again.

      if they manage to condense it and give out new spells / talents every 2 level (for example) then it just reduces those dead gaps. you're still learning how you're playing your class as you go along.

      story wise, I can understand the sentiment but I haven't leveled a non heirloom character in ages so I don't know how the flow is (you're certainly not finishing an expansion before moving on)

        The only problem is that previously those gaps lasted long enough you might actually experiment with your new ability and figure out how to use it more effectively. Two levels with the new system is going to be what? An hour? Probably less for most of them.

        I feel like they could have gone with a different approach and made a "catch-up" item that people could choose to use. Like the XP potions and the anniversary item (which gives +15% XP) but stronger. You want to level faster then use it and you get 200% XP and you'll be max level in no time. But they could have left the rest of the game alone rather than "wasting" time working on those changes.

          I think that's fair point, but I also think the current system has too much inconsistency which is (partly) why they squished it. the other aspect is Blizzard have stripped spells from specs... which some are returning in Shadowlands

          maybe it would have been better if they changed the pacing of the current 1 to 120 route, hard to judge until Alpha rolls around

            Yeah, I feel like they're in a situation where there is no win. No matter what choice they make it's going to annoy someone. I preferred the vanilla approach but I'm not going back and playing classic because I've already done it. As such I wish they'd left the classic "route" in just given us a way to make it faster.

            It's like every system in the game. Some people like them others don't. Talent trees/current system. PVP/PVE. Islands, warfronts, stat squishes, reforging, enchants for every item, etc. If you asked 10 different people to pick their favourite aspects you'd wind up with ten different versions of WoW 0_o

            The one thing I find really frustrating is the mixed messages we get from the devs. They talk about making things faster and smoother for new players. Or players on alts. But then they do stuff like removing portals from Dalaran. And what are they doing to do with flight? Are they going to open that up earlier (easier) in old zones? I get that they want to slow down the *current* content and I sorta agree with that. But why not make the old zones as easy as possible?

    I'm confused. Does this mean once you're out of the new starter zone youll be playing the Battle of Azeroth region? The previous regions aren't going to be played anymore?

      for new player yes. you'll be playing BFA then moving onto Shadowlands

      if you're rolling your 2nd / 3rd / 55th alt you can choose whatever expansion. that said it's not locked (even for new players I think) so if BFA is sending you to sleep you, move over to Wrath if you wanted to (or any other expansion)

        Right, so what were really talking about is all pre bfa regions effectively don't exist, especially for a new player.
        Its not really wow then.

          I think you can already argue that most expansions don't exist as it is currently. depending on rested / heirlooms, you can basically do one or two quest line of the first zone of an expansion plus one or two dungeons and presto you're onwards to the the next expansion

          blizzard is right there is a problem, they've been condensing the time to level every expansion release so yes they do need new solution. whether the current squish is the right call remains to be seen.

            True, but that's because of the massively inflated xp curves. Take that nonsense out and you have a game again, but people seems not to want to do it. Isn't that what trinkets for for after all?.

    Love the casual mention of cross-realm and why it’s a “good“ thing.

    I feel like they're out of touch with some of their comments.

    You’ll naturally hopefully form a lot of good friendships and connections in that. You won’t be subject to high-level players ganking you when you should be learning the basics.”

    Faster levelling means less time to form friendships. So for new people you probably won't be teaming up with people and becoming friends. Especially if you're a genuine newb and they're an alt. They'll outlevel you so fast they'll be into the shadowlands content while you're pottering around at level 30.

    As for "getting ganked" if that's a concern then, warmode off and play on a non-pvp server.

      Do PvP servers still exist outside of Classic?

        Yeah they do. The most populated Aussie ones (Frostmourne and Barthilas) seem to be PVP servers.

          They don't. PvE/PvP servers are one and the same now.

          The Warmode opt in/out option replaced PvP options across the board.

            Interesting, the site I was looking at still calls them PVP servers, but looking into it you're right. They did essentially turn PVP off and replace it with warmode.

            Correction: The most populated oceanic server *used to be* pvp servers :P

              Yeah, it's an arguably better system... But man does it still have its issues, once again thanks to yet more bullshit associated with sharding/instancing world areas.

                I'm thinking their long term plan is to not really have "servers" as such. While they may have multiple servers behind the scenes to run the game I suspect they're planning to basically just throw everyone in together as though we're in one giant server.

                Either that or dynamically balance the number of players in the world, which I guess is pretty much what sharding/instancing is.

    Guild Wars 1 had a max of 20. Even after the expansions came out. They made the expansions and new classes they added all about the challenge of the game, rather than the grind of getting new levels. If WoW was to switch to this, it could be interesting to me, as someone who really wants to play WoW for the story.

    Here's the problem I'm seeing with a lot of comments on this... People thinking that reducing the amount of levels is exactly the same thing as reducing the amount of time spent leveling.

    They can scale those levels to last however the hell long they want, yet we've got people running around acting like they've just reduced it to the equivalent of the first 50 levels or some insanity.

    Simply reducing the amount of levels but keeping the total XP required to be something similar would absolutely make it FEEL like less of a grind to newer players... Even if it took a similar amount of time to hit level cap. Because then new players aren't hitting the current level 50 and still being like "Ugh... I've still got another SEVENTY levels to go..."

    And if we're being honest, right now the time to hit level cap these days simply isn't an insane task... It's nothing even close to what it once was.

      I'm sure it will be faster considering it's focused on BFA which was only meant to last ten levels, but I still think there's still a lot of merit to the idea. The current system is gives players a short burst of a ton of different stories that they're not going to hear the end of because nobody their level is raiding Wraith. It's definitely quantity over quality.
      Rather than dragging players through all that maybe it's better to just admit that the old content is out of date. Cataclysm matters to lore masters but for someone going from fresh character to cap it's just a bunch of quests that hint at a story line.
      Here's hoping they go all in and blow the end-game group content out into solo and dungeon content into for the last 20 levels before hitting Shadowlands. If every previous expansion got turned into 10-50 content for solo and 5-man play a lot more people would keep up with the lore which frees them up to do more with the plot of the game.

      Plus everyone complains about the impact cross-realm play had on the social side of the game but they always forget that the reason cross-realm play is in the open world is because there's so much content that the odds of you naturally bumping into people at your level on your specific realm in any given location is super low. If the majority of the players leveling are in the BFA zones and the levels have been crunched then you're much more likely to run into people from your realm at your level.

        Sad thing about that is even with everyone focused in certain areas they'll still never disable cross-realm or such... So the issues it brings with it, and the reasons people dislike it, will forever remain.

        Oh god no. I get what you're saying but I absolutely don't want them to mess with original dungeons and raids again. I like going back and smashing Firelands or Dragon Soul solo for transmog. I've even soloed Emerald Dream and some of The Nighthold (mechanics roadblocked me).

        That said, I'm all for them making a fresh tweaked version as long as they leave the original intact (like they did for Karazhan).

        If they did that they should make the raids a big instanced quest ala the destruction of Undercity (again as long as they leave the original raids intact as well). So you could basically treat them as the final quest before moving onto new content. Like at level 57 you got a quest to do Zul Gurub, 58 molten core, 59 Blackwing Lair and 60 AQ. Although that may be too many instances as quests. So they could maybe just make it the final raid of each xpac. So 60 is AQ, 70 is Sunwell, 80 is ICC etc.

        Retune it so you only need say 5 players and have NPCs making up the difference. The NPCs can act as the raid leader guiding the route and setting the pace.

          I like going back to old content and soloing it, even in Classic I like to see which dungeons my gear will let me solo, but that's gone with the level squeeze anyway. I don't have much faith in them getting the level squeeze just right but the current method has been gutted and re-balanced so many times that it's just wasting people's time. Something has to be done and I can see some merit in the core idea they've presented.

          That's what I meant by blowing end-game content out. As level 50 raid content it's going to be deserted. If the original expansions cover roughly 11-40, with 41-50 being made up of re-purposed end-game content, then it's all future proofed. The multiplayer stuff is still there so it's not WoW Offline, but the demands are much more reasonable. Ten years from now I might go decide to roll a Monk and level it through Mists as a complete experience. To me that's better than the last time I leveled where even the best expansions were a blur.
          It's a massive amount of work right now but if every expansion begins with crunching the previous expansion that way then every new expansion becomes a book in a library rather than one massive stack of half rotted newspapers.

          I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I have zero issue skipping Wraith of the Lich King. It was a great expansion and I loved it but the magic is gone. Northrend is just the venue. The band is gone, the lights are on and the people are gone. The bar is technically still open but I was never there for the drinks.

          I know I'm getting way ahead of things here but it'd be great if this eventually led to a new system of re-running content. If they added a system where I could form a team of up to five players then go into previous expansions with a shared experience bar/level to run it from 11-50 that'd be awesome. Whenever we're all online and in the mood we go to the team tab, hit the time warp button and get sent to which ever expansion we've chosen to pick up where we left off. Give us some options like starting with nothing vs having our current gear scaled to our level. No summons/portals/teleporting mode. Shared riding skill. -25% on all xp rewards for more grinding.
          The technology would be a bit tricky but I think the future of the game is in scaling content up and down so it becomes a feature rather than a burden, so it's not that big of a leap.

      They literally said they're speeding up the levelling though (about 70% faster). So they're either bumping up xp gain, or keeping the amount of xp required low.

      I honestly think they would be better off making players do the intro bit to get used to basic gameplay on the character then allowing an optional skip if players want it. Kick off the levelling again at the current xpac. So in BFA you'd do 1-10 or 1-20 as an intro then jump straight to BFA to do level 110-120. I'd leave the levels themselves the way they are (so level 130 is max in Shadowlands).

      I dislike the stat squishes and level squishes because you inevitably wind up with some weirdness. Like monsters being more powerful and having to be tweaked down. Or higher level items being the exact same stats (or lower!) than lower level items. And even when items are still higher, they're such a low upgrade that they don't feel worthwhile. "Yay I got one point more strength for an item that's 3 levels higher".

      This is especially important with socketed items. Look at the people stuck using a 425 piece of benthic gear because it has a socket while that shiny new 455 titanforge is unsocketed.

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