I finally made my pre-purchase of Battle for Azeroth and have started the process I was most excited for/dreading – the leveling of a Void Elf Warlock.
This is my first time doing lowbie leveling in about 4 years – the last time I did was pre-Warlords of Draenor on the Horde side, with a Blizzcon attendee guild. The experience was as you would imgine – decked out in heirlooms, my Orc Monk kicked things down in single hits as Brewmaster.
I am not really the biggest fan of leveling to be honest, so Heirlooms and Recruit-A-Friend were my favorite tools back then. About half of my alts were friend pairs on multiple accounts of mine, multi-boxed for RaF bonus, and upon dinging max level, I would use the level grants to bring up a third alt. In fact, pretty much all of my characters, save for my Demon Hunter, Death Knight, and Priest were leveled this way in some way, with actual normal gameplay post level-80. Many of my Horde alts on other servers were the beneficiaries of the freebie boosts we’ve been getting, or are Demon Hunters and therefore get to start at 98 anyways!
So I was looking at the 7.3.5 changes with skeptical eyes. I am not the biggest fan of leveling (which is probably why I’m not super on the Classic train, TBH) and so this change has to do some work to impress me.
With that in mind, let’s examine – does it work, so far?
My answer is…yes, kind of.
Leveling Is Fun, If You Get To Press Buttons And See Stories
Fundamentally, Blizzard identified the correct targets in the leveling flow we were left with post-Cataclysm – mobs were too easy, meaning you never really got to use many of your buttons until endgame, and the experience curve was too generous even without heirlooms, which meant you’d often finish a zone story (if you decided to stay at all) with gray quests and minimal to no experience gain. The changes made to leveling have emphasized the story and quests over grinding, to a point that it seems almost silly they haven’t done so sooner. Mobs give trivial amounts of XP overall, compared to how large the quest experience is. What’s more though, is that combat itself is fundamentally different. Sure, you’re not getting the height of each class and their design nuances, but you do get a sound, decent look at the basics and are able to practice something much closer to a full rotation regularly. Leveling a Void Elf Demonology Warlock means I get to summon multiple packs of demons, empowering after each and weaving in Shadow Bolts.
This is something that I didn’t expect would make as big of a difference as it did. Being able to actually…play. It’s so clearly obvious in hindsight, but being allowed to play with a rotation and learn a class while engaging with complete quest chains and reduced need to travel back and forth across the world is a huge plus.
To be fair, I am of two minds about leveling dungeons. First of all, I do think it should be said that dungeons, even the old ones, are one of the consistently best things about WoW. It is, after all, the very point on which it distinguished itself from Everquest, Dark Ages of Camelot, and its other competition way back on release in 2004. However, I think dungeon spamming to level was never really all that great or ideal. It was a weird retrofit many people used because questing took too much effort relative to reward. The big idea with the revamp is that leveling in the world, doing quests, is a fun and enjoyable activity, and this is the critical point. If you see complaints about dungeon leveling not working as well…that is the point. Now, could we argue that Blizzard came down too hard on dungeon leveling? Yes, absolutely. I think it could remain a viable option for those that want to use it. But, consider this – is running dungeons constantly, waiting in queue and often repeating the same dungeons multiple times, really the best way to level? I would argue – no.
On a technical level, the scaling tech works really well and I like it a lot. It has meant drastically shorter DPS queues while leveling since a lowbie tank could have unlocked a larger array of dungeons and therefore can end up leading a group of players far higher through the dungeon. Previously, you’d need 20% of players in each dungeon level bracket to be a tank, with 20% healers and the rest DPS to make it work. Now, you have a much larger pool of players and from that you only need around that ratio of players to make it work – a requirement that is far easier to meet. It is almost genius, in a way – the problem of leveling dungeon queuing is hoping you have those non-DPS roles at that level and in the queue. Now, however, you just need a pool of tanks and healers that have unlocked the dungeon!
Also, gear scaling is pretty cool and solves the problems that such a change could have brought about. I’m generally meh about Personal Loot in old dungeons, especially enforcing that change on high level players soloing, but for a leveling character, it is nice to see usable gear drops.
Allied Races Make The World Feel Alive
In a way, however – these systems are awesome but would ultimately be moot if there was no reason to level. It was the problem of 7.3.5 PTR – Blizzard was idealistic that people would test the leveling, but just didn’t get the degree of play they wanted. Well, the system is designed hand-in-hand with another change – Allied Races. In any other expansion *cough Cataclysm!*, a leveling revamp would be deemed “a waste of time” and would be thoroughly shit upon. Battle for Azeroth could have had the same issue, but Allied Races do something very smart – introducing a tied-together piece of content – an end-game unlock for a new race coupled with a new leveling experience. There is this fantastic synergy in these ideas – end-game content unlocks new races, which encourage you to use moments of low available content to level new alts with new races that are in many ways cooler than the existing ones, since they have this lore we get to explore in-WoW.
It does the thing that Blizzard was hoping it would – new players alongside existing players, people leveling characters all the same, and you are far more likely to come across other people when leveling. So far, from 20-48 on my Void Elf, I have not had a play session where I have not come across at least 3 other people in a similar level bracket, doing quests. It is perhaps the closest to original leveling I have felt – and while the sense of wonderment and intrigue isn’t as high as that experience, it does recapture some of it.
I really enjoy the process so far, and while I hear the later stretches (58+) get a bit rough, I am looking forward to moving on through!