Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Community Blog Topic: Is leveling (in WoW) too easy?

Once again, I'm taking up a topic introduced elsewhere.  You're welcome to read the background that prompted this question.  As I said last time, I don't write about WoW much,

Starting a character is World of Warcraft really isn't difficult.  The game holds your hand through a lot of the earliest moments of the game, and that's understandable.  Bringing in new players (i.e. customers) means having a low barrier to entry.  Leveling a character isn't restricted to the starting zones (which serve the role of a tutorial level.)  Eventually you're sent into the wider world for ~70 levels of fun and adventure.

The hardest part is making a decision.
Is leveling too easy?  I think answering this question properly requires breaking down the question into three related questions:

  1. Is leveling easy?
  2. Is leveling fun?
  3. Does leveling prepare you for the end game?

See the rest below the jump

Is leveling easy?
I don't think this was ever in doubt, but yes, leveling a character in WoW is really easy.

People of varying skill levels like to play video games.  Developers want all of those people to play their games.  Most games deal with this by implementing difficulty settings, which makes monsters hit harder or the puzzles move faster.  A game like WoW can't really offer such a feature; as such, it behooves them to make the bulk of the game as easy as possible so that as many people as possible can enjoy it.

Of course, this isn't to say that leveling a character offers nothing to the experienced, skilled player. A skilled player will find the leveling game a much faster experience than others:  They'll die less frequently, they'll understand how to defeat as many monsters at once as possible, and they'll understand all the ways to avoid unnecessary hindrances.  For some people, seeing how fast you can level is a game in itself.  Of course, enterprising people find ways to turn up the difficulty anyhow.

Is leveling fun?
I wouldn't be spending money on this game if I didn't think it was fun.  To be clear, though, the process of leveling has changed a great deal since the bulk of the game was revamped in Cataclysm.

For those not familiar, when WoW was first released, the bringing a character to level 60 could be a frustrating experience.  Quests would commonly ask you to kill X number of creatures, or collect Y number of items that drop from said creatures.  Many quests would send you back and forth around the world, which could be a huge time sink.  The revamp added a lot of variety to the quests while telling interesting stories at the same time.  You even interacted with the NPCs more than just getting quests from them.  The questlines of Eastern Plaguelands or Welcome to the machine are cited frequently as great examples of the new paradigm.

Does leveling prepare you for the end game?
Here is where I think the "too easy" criticism hinges.  As I said the last time I addressed a community blog topic, end-game content for WoW generally hinges on dungeons and raids, group content.  This content is often wildly different from the leveling game, as the mechanics found in the dungeons and raids are very different from what you'd do out in the world killing quest monsters.  This has improved somewhat in Mists of Pandaria, with quest monsters using attacks seen later by dungeon monsters, but it's a limited boon.  The monsters still live longer and hit harder with abilities far different from anything you'll see elsewhere (mostly).

Group content also means going in not just as DPS, but also as a tank or a healer.  There is nothing about questing that will teach you anything about playing a tank or a healer.  It's practically mandatory to use add-ons if you're going to heal a raid, not that the game would suggest you download Healbot (or some other healing addon).  There's no tutorial in the game explaining threat for fledgling tanks.  Blizzard is planning on implementing ways for players to learn these roles outside of a trial by fire, but that's still in development.

To be fair, there are dungeons available all throughout the leveling process; group content isn't unavailable below the level cap.  New players would be forgiven for not understanding the availability of the content, or for avoiding it and preferring to play alone.  My very first character was an orc shaman.  I was given a quest to go into Ragefire Chasm, one of the first dungeons available to Horde players at the time.  I had no idea what dungeons were, or that this was meant to be played in a group of five.  All I knew at the time was that I'd wandered into a zone with monsters I couldn't kill at all, and that I'd probably made some sort of mistake.  Also, that I'd never get to complete that quest.  (And I never did.)
Poor old guy never even learned how to ride a mount.
A lot of players think of the things you do at the level cap as the entire point of the game.  If leveling is just a time sink on the way to raiding and dungeons, then calling the game "too easy" makes perfect sense.  Even if they never get around to those things, the game might still seem too easy to some players.  I don't think that matters, not really.  The real to crack is giving solo players a way to prepare for multiplayer content.  Blizzard has said they're working on it; time will tell how successful their efforts are.

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