One of the major features coming with the new Shadowlands expansion of World of Warcraft is the level squish and revamp of how leveling works. The recent revamp to zone scaling, which happened near the end of the last expansion, was a helpful first step to fixing the issues with leveling in WoW, but it didn’t fix everything and it did create some new problems. Reducing the level cap back down to 60 will fix some more of the issues but if things keep going the way they have been since BC, we’ll eventually have the same problem all over again. So how can we find a fix for the long-term?
One of the best things about the 7.3.5 scaling revamp, for me, was it let me see the entire storylines in many of the zones I hadn’t touched since the Cata revamp. I’ve always been the sort of person who didn’t like continuing in a zone after the quests turned grey because despite wanting to see the stories, it felt pointless. Honestly, I generally always left an area once the quests turned green, so there was a lot I missed. As a result, there were a ton of quests in storylines in a lot of zones I’d never seen. After the 7.3.5 revamp I was able to finish an entire zone before moving on to wherever afterward, which I loved.
Where the revamp fell off the rails for me was after I hit level 60 and was ready to move on to the expansions. I liked not having to go to Outlands and of doing Pandaria instead of the cataclysm story, but I didn’t like having to go to Draenor. The leveling storyline in WoD was exciting and I enjoyed it immensely… the first time. I’ve honestly never made it through all the quests in WoD a second time, I always get bored and quit before I finish. Also, I didn’t like Tanaan, so I never got flying there either.
Shadowlands will be taking this system to the next level. There will be an entirely new leveling experience for new players to go from 1 – 10, and then we’ll be able to pick one expansion to play through for levels 10 – 50. Then 50 – 60 will be in Shadowlands. I’m super excited about this because each alt can have a completely different leveling experience, which will help leveling feel more interesting again. Plus, with fewer levels, the individual levels might feel meaningful again because, honestly, the majority of the levels on the way to 120 feel like they didn’t matter at all. Restoring the “hey I just got a new level, which means I unlocked something” will also help leveling feel less monotonous.
Although this change seems like it’ll address some of the significant issues with leveling, I can’t help but wonder what happens for the expansion after Shadowlands. There seems to be two possible ways they could go with this. The first option is, keep the 10 – 50 levels the same, do Shadowlands for 50 – 60, and then the new expansion for 60 – 70. This could work but would eventually lead us to the same situation we are currently in. Another option is they could add Shadowlands to the Chromie back in time section and change it to 10 – 60, though I’m not sure if that spread would still work with just playing one expansion. Additionally, we’d again end-up in the same place with too many meaningless levels.
Mulling over this issue, I started wondering why do expansions have to increase the level cap? Increasing the character’s power can be done through increasing item levels, similar to how it is after players reach max level. In BfA, none of the levels from 110 – 120 meant anything aside from being that much closer to getting back to the level cap. With the revamp, one goal is for every level to mean something via unlocking some skill or talent. If they keep that going while increasing the level cap every expansion, we’ll either end up with too much skill bloat again or meaningless levels. I’d like to stop repeating the failures of the past and learn from it instead.
Every expansion can still follow the formula they have until now without levels. We can still get a variety of zones with an expansion story just like now. Since we have the pathfinder achievements to unlock flying, we’ll still need to do the story regardless of needing any levels. Personally, in BfA, I hit level 120 before I even finished all three zone stories. It honestly didn’t matter at all. I still needed to do it for the Pathfinder achievement and to unlock one of the new dungeons. I didn’t feel slighted at all because, in every practical sense, it made no difference to the experience.
Of course, there’d still be an issue with returning players being behind in ilvls, although there can be catch-up mechanics to help players catch-up to the current gear levels, which is generally quicker than leveling anyway. There would still likely need to be item level squishes, but that’s better than having to squish both periodically. I’m sure there would be all kinds of an uproar if the level cap were just set 60 forever, but longterm, it seems like the best strategy.
I don’t think Blizzard will do this, but I do think it would be the best thing they could do for the game moving forward. I’m sure there are other good ideas out there about how to avoid finding ourselves in the same position of being right back at level 120 in a few expansions if you have ideas I’d love to hear them too.