Levelling the playing field.

Could Blizzard compress the ‘levelling’ component of World of Warcraft into the first ten levels?

Let’s face it, the levelling game these days is just a very long-winded way to introduce a set of abilities and talents to a player without swamping them with information. Could a character be given all of their abilities, graduate if you will, in the first ten levels and the player still be expected to play that class with some level of competence?

If so, would it then be possible to have three paths of ‘end game’ content: raiding, PvP and adventuring. Level ten and higher zones could be revamped to present quest and exploration content of varying difficulty for graduated characters and also provide rewards that are equivalent in power to those found in raiding and PvP. Trying a new class would be trivial, as would finding other players to group with for quest content, since you’d all be the same level.

Raiding follows the generic arcade game design: a static playing piece that moves from game level to game level, repeating that level until perfected and then moving on. PvP arenas and battlegrounds follow the generic board game design: static playing pieces and a static board, with random chance and the players’ decisions making each play through unique. Currently WoW’s adventuring game is a legacy of the generic RPG design, where a character gains levels slowly, out-levelling one set of content (some of which may not even have been played through) whilst levelling into range of another set, and subsequently gaining new abilities slowly over a long period of time; this slow bloom is pronounced in WoW, where many classes really only gain some of their more powerful signature abilities in later levels, often feeling underpowered or lifeless before that time.

I think the introduction of the Death Knight class shows us the way, and games like Guild Wars show us that a relatively short levelling component to a game does not preclude players from going out and enjoying general PvE content, doubly impressive when the game’s main focus is PvP. So it is possible to have a much shorter curve of character graduation and still provide PvE content that keeps players interested and adventuring within an MMO, but alas I imagine that it would take an event of cataclysmic proportions for Blizzard to repurpose their game in this way.

8 thoughts on “Levelling the playing field.

  1. Capn John

    I was not particularly enamored with the Death Knight. I loved the area and the experience, but the progression seemed too much too fast. Receiving a handful of Talent Points after almost every quest got a little overwhelming, and my Deathknight’s run finished at 59/60 when he entered Outland. I still have him, sitting there with my other characters, but I’m not sure I’ll play him again. I’m having more fun Tanking on my Paladin.

  2. Tesh

    A shorter introduction like this (agreeing wholeheartedly with invoking GW) would be fantastic. The main reason for the long leveling curve isn’t to teach players their class, it’s to boil them slowly so they stop noticing they are paying every month. (So said cataclysm may well require a business model shift… which would be perhaps even more epic.)

    Cap’n, maybe the DK advancement felt too fast only by comparison? What if that were the norm? Does it really take *months* to learn how to play a class? I’m not really a noob, but neither am I a raider, and I’m confident I could learn an instant level-capped class in a week or less.

    In fact, I’d argue that you *should* be able to learn your class quickly, and let the rest of the gameplay be situational, not baseline educational. As in, teach the basics and complete skillset quickly, then throw new situations at players and let them find ways to use those skills in new ways… rather than give them the same sort of grind with new skills.

    That’s perhaps personal taste, though.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    It’s interesting to see both points of view with respect to the Death Knight. I managed to get to grips with it fairly quickly, but I was also acutely aware of the lack of information on runes and how they worked. However, you don’t get any instruction on how classes operate in the vanilla game either, other than the odd quest that teaches healers to throw a heal now and again, but of course you get the abilities drip-fed to you so slowly that you can spend time using each one a great deal in order to find out what it does, because you don’t have much of a choice initially – there’s no other abilities to use.

    I think what the DK area – and by extension the idea of getting all your abilities in ten short levels – needs is for the quests involved in gaining those ten levels to be, in the main, an instruction on how to play the class and use the abilities. Perhaps abilities could be handed out on a per-spec basis, so, for example, all of your healing abilities would be granted at one level, and you would then do quests through that level that show you the various strengths of the heals and how you can empower them with various buffs and abilities. Quests could even be designed to teach you a few tricks of the trade, things that some players may never actually figure out for themselves, but would be quite competent at using once they’d been shown the light.

  4. pjharvey

    Some free talent respecs per class would be helpful, particularly when some talent trees persist in offering options to buff spells that you don’t get until 10 levels or more after the talent becomes available. Even without that discrepancy, being able to see how talents interact before setting them in stone would be beneficial.

    A free respec every 5 or 10 levels would be good. Learn what these talents do, try some others, give a different tree a chance, and have a solid and tested spec by the level cap.

    I would like to see accelerated levelling, much like the death knight. I think it only really works when you have experience of the game. My impression is that the early levels teach both the class and the game to the player, giving incremental advances to both. The death knight only really works because players know how to play WoW, they are only learning the class.

    I haven’t really played many other MMORPGs so I would be interested to hear how different other systems feel in direct comparison. For example, would you have felt comfortable going from WoW in to an accelerated character in Warhammer, or LotRO, or would the differences between games been a significant barrier to learning a class quickly?

  5. Melmoth Post author

    I think it definitely depends on the MMO, I’m fairly sure most WoW players could pick up WAR, LotRO, Guild Wars etc. and run with them without too much trouble – the fundamentals are the same, just different skills and slightly unique combat options in some cases. Admittedly you may not master the games immediately, but you’d be able to play well enough to enjoy things. Games like EVE and Darkfall, on the other hand, are hard to compare because of the way their skill systems work with respect to a levelling curve.

    It’s an interesting point though, I do wonder if a lot of these new MMOs which are based on the same design as WoW, LotRO and company, fail to hook new players because the levelling curve is too shallow, such that these new players often find themselves bored with only having a small set of abilities to use for the first twenty or thirty levels. I wonder if retention wouldn’t be better if these games gave you all of your abilities in a short span of time, and adjusted the levelling/adventuring game content to be a strong challenge for characters with a complete set of abilities, the incentive would simply be better gear, and it could possibly then provide a more seamless transition into the end game content.

  6. Tesh

    Melmoth, I think that’s a huge part of why MMO veterans don’t stick around in new MMOs. It’s no fun being a noob again (especially if ganking is in the mix), and they may as well stick with the game they have already leveled to the cap in. They have all their toys there.

    The question then becomes, how to cater to new players and veterans alike? I think Guild Wars points to one solution; give players the ability to make level capped characters from day one. If players could jump into the “endgame” of a new MMO right out of the gates, they may well stick around.

    Forget the nonsense arguments about “but, but, they diddn’ eeeeearn it!”. It’s about giving players a great time so they give you money. Period. A long, slow leveling curve just isn’t fun for someone who wants to play with endgame toys.

    Curiously, that’s not me; I love the leveling content, and have little use for raiding… but the thing is, I’m an outlier. Most WoW players are sitting at the endgame with level-capped characters. Those players probably do not want to go through the grind again. Perhaps most importantly, those who do like the leveling content (or who love to play alts) probably pick up new MMOs easier. Raiders won’t.

  7. nugget

    Since you invoked my beloved GW, here’s another thought for you. Perhaps we need to consider how much ‘learning’ is built into the levelling process itself.

    GW – you can level to 20 and get through the campaigns. Perhaps even with humans you group with not hating you. Is that the degree learning we’re shooting for?

    For me, 1+ years into GW, and with a bunch of level 20s… I can only confidently claim to be able to write 1) Monk bars of every shape and size (smite, prot, hael, I got it), 2) Rit healing bars, 3) Necro caster bars.

    And I cannot ‘read’ other classes bars the way I can read (or evaluate if you prefer) monk, rit and necromancer bars.

    I can play other classes without causing massive frustration to the humans with me, when I do group with humans, but I would never claim to have ‘learnt’ those classes.

    Maybe I’m just a slow learner. But it does bear thinking about. I think what’s wrong with the model of every expansion giving you new *levels*, is that the more that progresses, the further you lose sight of how much of a ‘learning cap’ the original set of levels were supposed to give.

    GW’s level to 20 seems to be more of a ‘this is how much you can learn, the very basics, with which hopefully people will not feel the desire to whack you on the head repeatedly after grouping with you’ thing – now go out and explore your world – and your own skills (vs, you know, your skillbar).

    I certainly feel I knew the priest class better at L60 in WoW than I knew my monk class at L20 (if you count *JUST* hitting that level) – but again, as I’ve mentioned, the two design philosophies are very different. Something to consider.

    (Also, your verification word was ‘splungthrust’, and to my cesspit brain, that just sounds… wrong.)

  8. Melmoth Post author

    I certainly feel I knew the priest class better at L60 in WoW than I knew my monk class at L20

    It’s an interesting comparison. Of course you probably didn’t have all of you skills for your monk at level twenty, and so although you had the basic concept of what a monk is and does, you didn’t have all the available powers to play with. So I suppose Guild Wars, in a way, allows you to keep levelling your own learning even after you’ve hit the character level cap, and you do this by adventuring in the world and seeking out new skills that you think would compliment your character. I like the way that works.

    (Also, your verification word was ’splungthrust’, and to my cesspit brain, that just sounds… wrong.)

    Don’t mind our Captcha system, it’s been watching too much late night Bravo channel on TV.

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