Middle of the road patches in World of Warcraft are rarely so impressive. But 7.3.5 has almost entirely reinvigorated the leveling process of the game. By activating leveling scaling across the entire game, with some caveats, the act of raising a new character is not only inviting, but it’s far more enjoyable because you can finally do it however you want. 13 years into Azeroth’s MMO existence, and leveling is now the best it’s ever been.
Today’s patch addresses the big issue with 7.3.5 (monster health pools being tweaked too high in old dungeons and raids), but by and large the changes to leveling and zone scaling in this patch make WoW feel like its contemporaries - Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. One of the beauties of those two games is that you can effectively play wherever you want. GW2 is still limited by what your highest level is - you won’t want to go to a level 80 zone before you’re level 80, but the down-scaling means you can revisit older content and still play with friends. Elder Scrolls Online’s level scaling means you’re effectively always playing with people, and can go to any zone at any time. World of Warcraft’s is somewhere in between.
The starter zones are still for just the starting of new characters. Then the mid-game zones scale from say 10-60, and then when you hit the original level cap, you can basically choose which expansion to play first, entirely skipping Outland if you’d like (as I know I would). And because level rises to meet you, you can go back to Westfall and play content you might have missed if you started on the Western side of Azeroth. You can effectively play your own personal greatest hits in the leveling game, making the chore of going from 1-110 feel a lot less like a chore.
What’s more is that this scaling applies to the dungeons too. Deadmines is now for levels 15-60, for example. The pool for random classic dungeon content is greatly widened, as is the pool for all expansion dungeons. Sitting in queue as a DPS is now as short as 5-10 minutes as opposed to 30-60. And the loot within the dungeons scales with your level too! You can get gear that used to be from the Deadmines in your 40s and use it to your heart’s content. Now, the gear doesn’t level with you once you have it, but the rewards system acknowledging your level is a boon for sure.
I’m around level 23 or 24 with my Mage now, and I’m still tooling about Westfall. Normally, I’d have been too high to make playing there worthwhile, but now I can stay there until every last bit of content is done. Heck, if I felt like it I could grind mobs to level 60 there. There’s something absolutely grand about that freedom of choice, something that’s been missing in WoW for years once the rest of the genre started freeing us from the progression linear path.
So this is a note to developers of all upcoming games: work level scaling into your content. You’ll greatly improve the freedom of your players, and in so doing the boredom of doing it the same way every time will be erased. It’s why I like leveling in ESO so much. As they add more DLC and Chapters, you can start and go wherever you want.
All MMORPGs should be like this, and do it cleverly so that the feeling of progress and accomplishment remains. Now it’s not totally level agnostic. There are still certain levels you must hit to get to Warlords of Draenor content, some zones in old Azeroth don’t “scale” until a certain level either (IE - Badlands starts at 40). So it’s not total freedom, and I don’t know if Blizzard is every going to completely open it up wide like ESO. Still, World of Warcraft finally feels like it’s playing the leveling game in this generation of MMOs, and I don’t see it ever going back.