I started a new World of Warcraft character last week, following the release of the Shadowlands expansion pre-patch that, among other things, reduced the game’s level cap from 120 to 50. I’ve only adventured in two different zones and I’m already level 32. It’s all going by so fast.
World of Warcraft launched in 2004 with a level cap of 60. The Burning Crusade expansion raised the cap to 70. Wrath of the Lich King bumped it to 80. Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria took the cap to 90 with five levels each. Warlords of Draenor, Legion, and the most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, each added 10 more levels for a total of 120. In preparation for the next expansion, the Shadowlands pre patch takes a decade and a half of adventure and experience and condenses it all down to a new cap of 50, the lowest the game has ever seen.
They’re rapid fire levels,not 50 super-dense levels, packed with all the content and adventure of the 120 levels I earned before. The new opening experience takes you through the first 11 or so levels. Then there’s a stop off at your capital city to learn about riding and unlock talent specialisations. From there the game recommends going straight into Battle for Azeroth, the expansion formerly for players level 110 to 120.
I took my new hunter Epi into Boralus, the Alliance capital in Battle for Azeroth. I followed the quest progression through Tiragarde Sound, the zone encompassing Boralus and its surrounding area. I achieved level 32 playing sporadically over the weekend, simply travelling from quest hub to quest hub. Each handful of quests earned me a level. Each level earned me new skills and talents, all rebalanced and tweaked for the next evolution of the long-running MMORPG. I went from fledgling hunter to experienced animal tamer and trapper over the course of maybe 10 hours, if even that. I’m sure a more focused player, one not tabbing out to Netflix to continue their Dexter rewatch every 15 or 30 minutes, would have gotten even farther.
I did make a couple of detours on my journey. I stopped by the Drustvar zone briefly because I decided Epi needed to tame a couple of giant bees. Once she hits 50 I’m going to farm reputation so she can get a bee pet and bee mount. I’ve got end-game plans.
I also stopped by the Mists of Pandaria expansion. All of the content from previous expansions is still available, only now they’ve all got their own separate Time Walking campaigns. For the first time since the older expansions launched, Azeroth officially considers them the past, rather than having them awkwardly coexist with newer content. The experience points come very fast no matter which path players choose. The difference is Mists of Pandaria is still incredibly boring and I hate it. I poked my head in for a moment and went right back to Boralus.
Mostly I’ve been hanging out in Tiragarde Sound, following the various questlines to their conclusion before moving on. I helped fight off some critters invading a garden party. I thwarted a plan to take over the city. I snapped some selfies for a gnome who runs a spa. Hardly the stuff of myths and legends. Sure, by the time I finish the Battle for Azeroth storyline I’ll have been an integral figure in one of the most massive conflicts in the fantasy planet’s history. But that’s only if I don’t hit the level 50 cap and wander off to play with bees before reaching the story’s conclusion, which is looking more and more like what’s going to happen.
It feels rushed. Blizzard sliced up and flattened the entire World of Warcraft experience, turning its older content into at best a quick prelude for what’s to come with the Shadowlands expansion proper and at worst content players are better off skipping than playing. I’ve still got characters I created in 2004, so I know how epic the full journey has been. I feel bad for newer players who won’t get any of that.