World Of Warcraft’s Speedy New Levelling Experience Leaves Me Cold

World Of Warcraft’s Speedy New Levelling Experience Leaves Me Cold
Screenshot: Blizzard / Kotaku

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.

Screenshot: Blizzard / KotakuScreenshot: Blizzard / Kotaku

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.

Screenshot: Blizzard / KotakuScreenshot: Blizzard / Kotaku

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.


  • Wait, so your not happy they streamlined the worst part of the game and made it easier for casual players to get to end game and play with their friends? I personally really enjoy the levelling experience now because it isn’t so drowned out and prolonged. I guess opinions are opinions and we are all entitled to them. Hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am with the Pre patch.

    • 100% this. An opinion piece from someone who doesn’t play the game, talking about how their nostalgia was ruined because Blizzard fixed something that no one liked.

      I understand it’s an opinion, but it’s like listening to a marshmallow maker discuss the finer points of ship building.

      • I learned long ago that anyone left playing retail seems to feel the way you do. There seems to be two distinct mindsets for wow players.

        Players like myself who much prefer the leveling experience over the endgame are stuck with classic… which I really enjoy. But it’d be nice to have the classic experience with new zones.

    • Certainly a welcome change for the benefit of the sorely needed new blood in WoW. What faced new players interested in actually participating in an MMO was basically over a decade of outdated single player content that could take an inexperienced player weeks if not months to complete, and did nothing to really prepare them for end game content that everyone else is doing.

      If you want all the old levelling content to play by yourself, it is still there and it now has the benefit of being structured by Chromie Time such that you can pick an expansion and play through it (almost) all the way through instead of outlevelling it all very rapidly.

      Great change overall.

  • It’s absolutely bizarre how much praise all the covid double xp weeks and constant incentive to breeze past reams of core game content has got. When did WoW become a game only about catching up to hardcore 10 year vets, faction grinding and cycling end-game instance runs, while hundreds of hours of actual rpg content are treated as if they’re some kind of painful hazing ritual that newbies shouldn’t have to suffer through any longer than absolutely necessary?

    • It’s absurd to me.
      But I enjoy the journey and the solitude of WoW’s levelling. Classic really is something special.

      I think the game changed so much over the years that anyone left has a very different mindset. They’re much, much more endgame focused and couldnt care less about soaking in the Arathi Highlands or Nagrand.
      They just want to hit max level and start levelling up their artifacts or smashing out raids. Which is fine.. but it sucks for those of is who prefer the grandness of classic (and who would love new content)

  • I’ve tested this a bit on beta and I think it’s fine. sans heirloom and main questing only you’ll actually progress quite a bit into 2 zones and you’ll probably hit 50 before you finish the third.

    this seems to be shift which is even reflected in SL beta where Blizzard is / was tuning experience gain during leveling… side quests are now, well side quests… skip them and you’ll still get to the level cap

    the old expansions though are less balanced, that I agree with but you can’t expect Blizzard to redesign 15 years of content

    • Heirlooms were changed to no longer give bonus XP anyway.

      They instead now reduce the rate you use rested XP at, and work like a 7 piece set now giving bonuses towards that rested XP burn rate and some timed stat buffs whenever you level up.

      • yea I know, I didn’t think the set bonus was that powerful but I did ding 7 to 8 levels in a dungeon before my rested expired so there’s my 1 sample size testing of it lol

        I do expect for regular alts, it will be minimum benefit since no one is going to purposely park their alt for weeks to acquire full rested

  • I can understand Blizzards intent when they first announced it, the experience was a bit broken cause it bounces you through the expansions leaving you half complete starting zones… that leveling should try to funnel you through one expansion so it feels coherent and entertaining….

    … but I think they broke that idea by making a 12 hour (or less) experience. It resulted in the same problem. 12 hours thats a power levelling weekend. It feels too fast.

  • My suggestion in the past was to get rid of levels completely in Wow. Only item level really counts nowadays.

    Instead fill the old zones with more achievements and cosmetic rewards for completing main quest lines, more gold and resources on quest chains. Gate end-game content behind reps and main quest lines.

    Each new expansion is just an item squish which could be simplified with a standard formula.

    • Seems a whole lot like ‘get rid of levels completely and replace with item level’ is exactly what they’ve done, with the levels now effectively being little more than a tutorial.

      Which makes sense for new players who need to get the hang of individual components in their toolkit one by one instead of being thrown a kit of eighty skills and being expected to know how they work together.

      • Not really… you still need to L1 to 50, and when the expansion comes out L50 to L60.

        Leveling in most MMOs is just a speed bump to slow you down for about two weeks… then spend the next 2 years playing End Game. It only exists cause it’s a relic of the history of gaming. Even the “ding” of levelling feels unrewarding in most games… and now more so since its too fast. If its that fast why exist at all.

        I think levelling should be replaced with a more robust reward system that encourages playing old content as much as new stuff.

        Players will spend hundreds of hours farming the perfect look, or gold, or mounts… each yet they still find it too hard to encourage people to play old quests and zones???

        • I agree with @transientmind, if you get rid of levels completely new players will be faced with the daunting amount of abilities to press will literally have to brute force their way through learning and reading a whole bunch of tool tips. At least levelling you get introduced to new skills and abilities to try out when you get them. I also understand where your coming from, buts that is also why they can charge a premium on the “skip levelling” aspect of the game with character boosts.

          • As someone that comes back to play every other expansion, having levelling tool tips that can be revisited as a high level character could be nice considering they break Warlocks (and other classes too apparently) whenever they do a restructure and I need to figure out how the class works now.

            Going from having a specialty but being able to dabble in the other trees to being only demons, only curses, or only DPS has to be one of their stupidest decisions.

          • But what your describing doesn’t have to be delivered by levels either. Levels are an arbitrary way to deliver abilities… they could be gated by a training or tutorial mode.

            The abilities could be introduced through a class/training hall quest chain. They already had a similar way with the Level Boost Character Trail.

            The monk had a training hall that the class trainer gave you a practice mission.

            The Demon Hunter and Death Knight classes got a quest zone that had abilities as reward.

            I just think levels are a legacy that could be phased out for more rewarding in-game content.

  • I feel the opposite. The leveling experience got a much-needed overhaul. Going from Exile’s Reach to Boralus and skipping all the dated bloat of past expansions was just what the game needed. No one wants to start the game and be faced with 120 levels and 7 expansions of old content.

    • Well, the 120 levels I can agree with, not wanting to play through the previous expansions is a lie that ‘no one’ wants to play as I know people that are playing through the previous expansions rather than just locusts and rushing for endgame before getting bored and leaving for the next game with endgame content.

      Unfortunately, between Cata’s screwing over of the old world, and Blizz’s obsession with limited time content which means that core bits of the story of the expansions is no longer playable (Warlords being especially crippled this way) those that are interested in experiencing the story are getting shorthanded either way.

  • The new level cap is 60, Mike, not 50.
    And yeah, the new levelling experience is a lot faster than before. Getting to level 50 (the level required to begin Shadowlands when it releases) reportedly now only takes from 6-8 hours.

  • The sad part is it’s more difficult to go and experience the old content as a challenge. Dungeons flicker in and out of your party finder. Old school raids only exist for a single level in the finder and are gone. If you want to quest in old zones you’ll soon out-level their scaling and then everything becomes trivial. I haven’t tried the time travelling, but the article implies you outlevel them rapidly there too.
    And yeah, it was difficult to enjoy before because of the massive time commitment. Is there no happy middle ground? Surely it’s something you could op-in to at character generation?

    • you can Chromie time and lock yourself at 49.X (since the scaling stops as soon as you hit 50)

      it’s what some people are doing to make past content enjoyable and challenging

      personally not my cup of tea but everybody does things differently

  • I found the new levelling experience extremely well done, but woefully easy.
    It would be nice to have some sort of challenge so as the levels tick by you feel like you have earned it.

  • I think the writer nails it. Levelling happens so fast you don’t absorb the story anymore. You just do it while watching TV in the background, because everything is so automated you don’t have to stop and read quest text, think or talk to other players. It’s just not an enjoyable experience for me like it used to. Yes, getting from level 1 to 60 (or 70 later) took me two months and was quite a challenge, but back then the game had 10 million active players. Now there are less than 2 million. Maybe making it all faster, easier and practically trivial isn’t what player really want, despite the fact that they vocally demand for it on forums.

  • After leveling 24 toons to cap I’m glad to have the fast route for the rest of my toons.. I pmsl at anyone who whines that leveling is the fun part anf blah blah.. Hmm in a game thats focus is purely end game perhaps you should try a game like bdo or eve.. There is no max level and that makes them boring as shit ????????????

    • I find leveling greatly enjoyable myself… And have probably leveled dozens of characters to cap. Hell, I’ve leveled a dozen paladins alone purely because they’re simply a lot of fun to level… Yet a paladin has never even been the class I played as my main.

      Recently I’ve probably enjoyed leveling more than any of the ‘end game’, though I will agree that I don’t get this idea how it’s the only ‘fun part’. I’ve leveled multiple characters of pretty much every class and just straight up deleted characters after hitting cap.

      And with that in mind, I still don’t think this change is anywhere near as big a deal as people are making out to be.

      It’s not like the old content went anywhere. Nothing is stopping anyone else from doing that content, or completing those quest lines and zones. Even repeatedly if they so choose to.

      All this really does is make more of the quest lines/zones you want to play through accessible much quicker.

  • I feel like there needs to be an option to say ‘do I want to hit max level asap or can you drop the experience gained to match what it was during the particular expansion I chose to level through’. I, too, started a new character and am barely halfway through the 2nd zone in WoD and am nearly max level, so unless I choose to continue questing at max level (no incentive really) I won’t actually see the rest of the story for that expansion, kinda sad considering they have all these great storylines, some of which I certainly haven’t done in a decade or more.

    • Does the ding and new number really add that much? If you’re doing it to experience the story/zones etc, then cap your XP at level 49 and continue playing through.

      Lots of people either don’t care for it, or have played the game a significant amount in the 16 years the game has been around. This change is well warranted at this point. New players get the updated introduction, and can go back to experience the old content through alts or at max level. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

    • If seeing the story alone isn’t enough of an incentive for you to complete it, then it’s clearly not that important to you.

  • I think the writer nails it. Levelling happens so fast you don’t absorb the story anymore. You just do it while watching TV in the background, because everything is so automated you don’t have to stop and read quest text, think or talk to other players. It’s just not an enjoyable experience for me like it used to. Yes, getting from level 1 to 60 (or 70 later) took me two months and was quite a challenge, but back then the game had 10 million active players. Now there are less than 2 million. Maybe making it all faster, easier and practically trivial isn’t what player really want, despite the fact that they vocally demand for it on forums.

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