Community Blog Topic: Is Leveling Too Easy?
Never failing to be (more than) fashionably late, here is my response to last week’s Community Blog Topic. I resisted writing about it for a while, fearing that I would end up being entirely too ranty about the whole thing, and then just gave in to my ranty tendencies.
The notion that leveling has become too easy in a post-Cataclysm Azeroth is so completely presumptuous that it makes me want to go on a Deathwing-style rampage. The vast majority of players who say that WoW questing has become “too easy” are people who have leveled one (or likely multiple) characters to max level; who are playing with one or several heirlooms; and who are extremely familiar with MMO gameplay and leveling, either exclusively through WoW or through a variety of games.
By and large, long-time players don’t want an extended leveling experience – they want it to be as abbreviated as possible. While there are certainly some exceptions, most notably those players who invent new challenges like Ironman, these are much less common than players who quickly push to max level.
WoW is much more focused on endgame content than arguably any other active MMO. For quite some time now (probably since Burning Crusade), WoW has not been about the journey, but the destination. Leveling is simply a means to an end, and while we can certainly hash it out over whether that’s helpful or harmful to the playerbase in general, we can’t deny that this is the current climate of the game.
As such, it’s silly to argue over whether leveling is “too easy” for experienced WoW players. Simplicity doesn’t matter – speed does. While the two may go hand-in-hand, it’s important to see how one is a by-product of the other. Fast leveling means a full set of heirlooms, and heirlooms quickly trivialize the difficulty of any content.
If you want to look at leveling difficulty from the only perspective that could possibly matter, ask a player who has never played an MMO before whether they found WoW’s leveling too easy. Here’s why:
Do you want to keep playing World of Warcraft? Do you want it to be around for a few more expansions, and several more years? If you have any desire to continue playing WoW, then you should recognize that you have a personal investment in new players’ enjoyment of the game.
Many people have come and gone in the 5 years that I’ve been playing WoW, including people who I expected to continue subscribing until the servers went offline. WoW’s membership has been on the decline since the end of Wrath, and while I don’t believe that’s a sign of the end times for the game, it does mean that we are constantly in need of new blood.
I think it’s a safe guess that the majority of people who self-identify as “gamers” have already tried WoW at this point in the MMO’s lifespan. Blizzard knows this and has, to the chagrin of some seasoned players, tailored the leveling experience to be friendlier and more accessible to players of all skill levels and gaming experience … and that’s a really good thing.
While it may seem extremely self-satisfying to pat ourselves on the back and reminisce about the days when we had to walk 1o miles uphill in the Barrens to get from Darnassus to Stormwind, this selective nostalgia is often a way to define our experience as better or more important than the experiences of newer players.
What did we gain from having a leveling experience that was especially brutal, grindy, and punishing? I’m sure there will be those reading this who would reply, “We learned how to play our class!” which simply doesn’t ring true to me. Perhaps this was the case when we only had 60 levels of talents, passive abilities, and spells to sift through, but it’s difficult to see how it could ever be true with 90.
A level 20 warrior and a level 90 warrior don’t have very much in common. With the Cataclysm revamp, Blizzard ensured that each class specialization gets some of its flavor early on, but a level 20 character still uses only a very limited number of abilities. This is how leveling should be – complexity should build as we become accustomed to our surroundings and our character. It would be entirely overwhelming, particularly for new MMO players, to have all those abilities available at the start. So while it’s a noble goal to wish that leveling could teach us how to play our characters at max level, the reality is that there is a huge jump in the learning curve when we hit 90 – a jump we only “have” to make IF we are players who want to learn our class in that way.
A prevalent value judgment made by the majority of WoW and MMO players is that, unless you are willing/capable of fully understanding your character and class at max level, you are doing something wrong. As a community, we largely fail to recognize that it entirely possible to have a blast playing WoW while not necessarily understanding everything you’re doing.
If you aren’t looking to get into hardcore progression raiding or top the PvP brackets, there is nothing inherently wrong with deciding not to min/max your character. There is nothing wrong with the choice to play WoW casually, at one’s own pace and skill level. Those who do choose to make their ways into the upper echelons of WoW’s raiding and PvP communities need not act as if that choice makes their experience more meaningful or more correct than the experiences of those who don’t. We are all having a great time playing a game that we love, and playing it in the way that best suits us.
Bottom line – questions like this worry me. When we ask questions that come from the often myopic viewpoints of veteran players in spaces frequented by all types of WoW players, there is a big risk of alienating and demoralizing new players who read the title of this post and think, “Leveling is EASY?” And, inevitably: “If that was supposed to be easy, how will I ever be able to do anything at max level? Why is it worth my time to continue?”