Before I resume the pile-on of Shadowlands beta info, I wanted to get out two additional posts about starting and level-up experiences in MMOs. One comment in my last post on the topic from Bhagpuss got me thinking.
I really enjoy Bhagpuss’ writing because there are some things on which we fundamentally disagree and seek different experiences, and that is something I enjoy about his writing – he advocates for a different version of the MMO compared to what I am familiar and comfortable with, and it is something I genuinely appreciate.
So, his comment amounting to “remove the endgame not the levels” sparked a variety of responses in my head. My kneejerk response, which I did not make as a comment, was that the idea was silly and incompatible with most modern MMOs. As I let the thought percolate for longer, though, I came back to a thought I often had in 2005 during the beginnings of my WoW tenure.
The concept of endgame is somewhat weird, when you think about it. In WoW’s case, whole portions of content and game modes aren’t even available until you reach the current level cap. FFXIV does better through synced content, allowing someone who is leveling for the first time to try the content as they go, and it isn’t uncommon for new players to do all the content at each stop for the sake of story – hitting 50, doing all the dungeons, raids, MSQ and such, and then moving to Heavensward, doing the same at 60, then at 70, until reaching current day. It is time-consuming and somewhat difficult to find groups to do that, but for a lot of the game’s content, the scaling systems and roulette approach work for it, save for the level 50 Coil of Bahamut raids, which are not in a roulette.
When I first started playing WoW, the thought I had quite often as I got on track towards the level cap was “why aren’t there lower-level raids for us to do?” WoW used to, in vanilla, allow sub-60 players who otherwise met raid requirements to zone in and play, and I have fond memories of having done my Onyxia attunement around level 55 and getting my first kill around 56. Even still, that was a moment that came after months of gameplay, and was so close to the level cap that it kind of doesn’t matter, especially as a healer.
One of the complaints I have made in this series about leveling is that at endgame in most modern combat MMOs, you are expected to learn a hell of a lot of stuff. Suddenly, you have to learn about raid composition, what a raid group even is, how to find groups for organized raiding, the horrors of LFR, multiple difficulties on dungeons, Keystones, world quests, and so much more. Hitting the level cap dumps a truckload of new things on a player in WoW, and while FFXIV has less of that thanks to unlock quests which drip feed that content to players, it still has a lot of new things that exist at the endgame just for players who’ve reached that point.
A question occurred to me from this thought today which finally gave me the impetus to put text to screen, which is this – why can’t so-called “endgame content” exist throughout the leveling curve?
World quests, for example? On a technical level, we know Blizzard can make them available to any player as they’ve done in both the Legion invasion and War of the Thorns pre-expansion events. Why not make it such that you finish a quest hub in leveling content and unlock a series of related world quests which can be done for addition experience and perhaps even loot or reputation rewards? Dungeons exist across the spread of levels in WoW, why not make it such that Heroic or even Mythic difficulty dungeons get sprinkled in as you level, with scaling tech to keep them relevant up to the endgame? Raids are tricky, but world bosses for multiple expansions now exist and just sit on the horizon scaring level-up players. Why not scale them to level along with the other dynamic scaling factors that already exist and allow leveling players a chance to tackle the boss as a part of a raid? Maybe on the instanced front, you could gather story-related raids and create scaling, LFR-lite versions of the content. Like a “Fate of the Black Dragonflight” series that gathers Onyxia’s Lair, Blackwing Lair, Obsidian Sanctum, Blackwing Descent, and Dragon Soul into a queue-able series of LFR “wings” you can run past a certain (sub-cap) level? You could do lots of those – an “elemental” series that would have Molten Core and Firelands, or a “Servants of the Void” series with Ruby Sanctum, Bastion of Twilight, (maybe again) Dragon Soul, Heart of Fear, Siege of Orgrimmar, and Ny’alotha. You could reward set appearances with scaled stats for the player’s level that hearken to the theme of the series.
PvP does well enough with bringing in more players regardless of level, but perhaps arena could be more available at low levels, or scaling to allow rated play? I’m not a big PvP fan, but it is something that I think could do well with small tweaks to make it broadly more applicable at low levels.
Now, ultimately, I’ll acknowledge that what I’ve proposed here is a synthesis of Bhagpuss’ position with my own. His proposal is “no endgame” and mine is “endgame is my favorite stuff, so bring select endgame content to everyone regardless of level” and I know that in my proposed and ideal worlds, there is still an endgame to play in. However, I do think that there is a lot of merit to focusing on offering players really strong content and chances to learn the systems previously reserved for endgame at all levels. There’s no reason in the current state of WoW that a player gets dungeons and battlegrounds in the 10’s and doesn’t get raiding or higher-difficulty dungeons outside of legacy content until 120. It only exists as an arbitrary line drawn to save content for later in the cycle, and I think it is a part of why a lot of more casual players tend to hit the endgame and sort of burnout or meander through small pieces of the experience.
I’ve been with WoW from the beginning, roughly, and so each change to the endgame that has led to today has been a small event that has added to my existing understanding. I’ve had 15 years to wrap my head around the model, so unless Blizzard completely uproots the design and plants something new, I’m not going to have a hard time actually learning the ins and outs of it.
However, for that starting player, hitting 120 today is an unceasing barrage of new concepts, gameplay modes, dungeons, raids, and other challenges, and it stands to reason that a part of working on the new player experience, working on how a new player comes into contact with such systems deserves focus as well.