The New World of Warcraft Leveling Experience and It’s Value, To Me

I’ve talked a bit about Chromie Time in a recent post and shared some excitement over how the structure of the new experience and how it works. I think, however, today, that I have something that might be a bit more interesting to share and discuss.

Over the last two years and change, a lot of my posts have been varying amounts of disappointment over Battle for Azeroth and the state of things in the game. I stress the word “disappointment” because I am actively playing the game, and have been in some capacity for the entirety of the expansion, minus the 3 weeks and change I was out of the country over the course of the expansion. WoW is, for whatever else I might say and feel about the game, sort of my digital “home” in a manner of speaking. Playing the game is something I can do without much thought and it makes it very easy to nest into during times of challenge.

And if you’ve read here long enough, this is probably starting to sound like my old post about finding solace in WoW, and you’re right!

Lately, I’ve been in a general sort of funk. Like many in the era of COVID-19, my life in 2020 has taken some unexpected turns and twists and for the last week and change, I’ve been waiting on a few personal issues to resolve. During this time, I haven’t really had motivation to engage with a game a lot. I really want to play Final Fantasy XIV and farm up some more upgraded Resistance Weapons, I thought about getting back into Cities: Skylines, Planet Coaster, House Flipper, or a myriad of other titles I’ve played on and off this year. I thought about starting Genshin Impact, did so today for about an hour, and kind of peaced out on it. Not because I didn’t want to play, but rather because it feels pointless to engage in my current mental state.

But there is something I have been doing.

I’ve played a surprising, even alarming amount of WoW. Not like, seriously. I leveled my prior-to-patch 110+ alts to 50, each of which took about 60 minutes. I’ve started rotating through Allied Race alts, both factions, just doing different blocks of Chromie Time to see things I haven’t seen a lot of or at all. I’m doing Outland for the first time on a Horde character with my Mag’har Orc. I’m doing Northrend for the first time on my Vulpera Monk. I’ve enjoyed sort of getting lost in the game, absorbed enough by the experience to not be consumed by existential angst, but not so much as to feel like I am distracted, which is good, since one of the key drivers of my funk is waiting on a phone call with an unreliable timeframe.

The whole experience led to me a thought about why it is I like the leveling experience in WoW, mostly. It made me think about what it is about the modern game that still really draws me and can hold me regardless of whatever storms are raging at my door.

WoW is, for the word “war” in the title, actually very peaceful.

Leveling in WoW isn’t really a process that requires you to, for as bad as this will sound, think very much. As a gameplay experience, it is one of the few places in the game that I feel like still offers an effective blank canvas onto which you can paint whatever you’d like. You can pick a timeline, level with gathering, do PvP or PvE, run dungeons, do quests, combine a mix of these activities, or more. The overt simplicity of WoW’s combat on the path to level cap makes playing the game actually kind of soothing, in a way. There’s a set of basic patterns and ideas to follow, and during leveling, talent selection does end up being far more personal and easier to manage.

While I think this is the case for me a lot because I’ve been playing for 15 years, I do also think that the modern game has this as a strength. For whatever negatives one can lay at the feet of the leveling process, the whole of it has a lot of gameplay to offer, with the side effect that very little of the standard questing experience requires you to really deeply engage with the game. It is the digital equivalent of dipping a toe into the pool or wading on a beach. You don’t need to swim, and it is possible to get a comforting sense of enjoyment from the less-involved interaction with the activity.

Leveling via standard questing lets me tune almost completely out and just enjoy the game. I can turn on YouTube, or a podcast, or any other mode of passive content and just play. The frustrations I’m feeling in real life can be channeled into the game – being astonished at how bad the Burning Crusade quests still feel, especially now that they are the oldest tier of content in the live game, being bothered that Fury Warriors don’t get dual-wield skills now until level 14, or being annoyed with low drop rates of quest items. Maybe the game isn’t satisfying to some people for that same reason, but for me, past launch windows, it is absolutely something I find a lot of return on investment in.

I’m happy that people have WoW Classic to go to because I know people find value of their own in that experience, but for me, the current game offers me a chance to play without having to get really into it, and Classic does not offer me that same level of surface engagement. For me, there is some value to having active gameplay, but I don’t always want that.

I think that is the thing about WoW that keeps me coming back, in a lot of ways. Most of the time, I can play the game with a barely surface-level engagement, still get something out of it, and it has more to offer if I dig deeper, which on a weekly basis means dungeons, raids, and more involved first runs of story questing. WoW, in a very weird way, is mentally comforting to me.

And sometimes, that’s all I need.

10 thoughts on “The New World of Warcraft Leveling Experience and It’s Value, To Me

  1. That pretty much describes my experience with almost every MMORPG I’ve played over the last twenty years. That open-ended, do what you feel like, don’t take it too seriously, watch the levels tick up process *is* MMORPG gameplay to me. What’s more, it’s long been my contention that it’s the most common playstyle and the reason for the genre’s persistence and breadth of appeal. That’s what most people do, most of the time, only very few of them have blogs or stream or really talk much about with other people outside their immediate circle about what they’re doing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have a rotation. I start with my four “primary” toons, the main and support staff as it were, and then I have six or seven alts, one of each class (plus an extra warlock, because I like warlocks). After I finish that, I cycle through my three Classic toons.

    I say this because of the contrast between my lowest level Retail toon (a Dark Iron warlock below level 30) and my “main” in Classic.

    In Retail, Boombasta averaged two levels a night and that was maximum faffing. I mean, I’d watch half an episode of The Expanse in between quests, that sort of stuff. Roughly six quests to get through a level, so that’s roughly 12 a night.

    Contrast that with Grimmtooth the Hunter on Classic, where I spent last night, steady, getting through three quests. And I almost didn’t get through the third because I forgot where to turn it in! But it was a slog! The first questgiver was in Nigel’s Point and the quest was in the Valley of Bones on the opposite end of Desolace.

    Meanwhile my warlock was getting three quests, taking three steps, killing all the things, then walking back and turning them in.

    Without a doubt, the *efficiency* of doing quests in Retail has improved, massively, over Vanilla / Classic. But has it really improved?

    I’m thinking of a panel from a Penny Arcade strip. Gabe is confused. “They’re offering me a ‘time saver’ but I’m not trying to save time. I’m playing a video game. Are they saying I shouldn’t?”

    It’s just weird to me that a game company would want you to play less. Improve the experience- i.e. quest markers, highlighting on the map, all that stuff – sure. But play less?

    Hell, Blizz even weaponized that shizzle, and made it so you can PAY to not play the game. Wrinkle your nose at some mog wings if you want, but THAT is some marketing genius, when you get people to pay to not play.

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    1. I think what this misses is the idea that many seem to have that the ‘real’ game begins at the end game. And try as I might to get away from this mindset on occasion — it’s one I understand and naturally tend to land on as well.

      It’s a really odd dynamic though because if you took away the leveling game and just made the end game well… the game, on paper I *should* be all over that but I can absolutely tell you I wouldn’t be. There is some part of me that believes that the end-game needs to be ‘earned’. At least once, in any case. I’m less against improving efficiency or otherwise easing the path beyond that — thus my absolute adoration for the +XP Heirloom gear WoW had.

      In any case, I should also clarify that I by no means my way of thinking is ‘right’ or a style of thinking that should be desirable — only to point out it exists in a sufficiently broad swathe of the community to allow for the marketing and selling of efficiency gains (and outright full on skips) to be effective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is where a lot of my – well, let’s call it confusion for the moment – comes from. To me, the game is the game. The whole game. And I bought the game to play the game. So even something like +xp heirlooms or +xp fire festival charms go against the grain. To paraphrase: “Blizz is helping me save time, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to play a game. Is blizz telling me I shouldn’t?”

        This is all dancing around a couple of things.

        1) Players lie. They say they want a thing, but they don’t. They are either incapable of expressing what they want, or too disingenuous to do so. (which is not to imply something sinister, but just something slightly dishonest about the process of finding out what players want)

        2) When Blizz implements some sort of “solution”, they invariably do it unilaterally, clumsily, and often in secret. And then wonder why people get pissed at them.

        Here’s a couple of examples.

        1) People want to experience the leveling experience as it was on their first player, only with a different class, spec, faction, or race. First with Cata and most recently with this “squish”, they have been denied this experience, ever again, unless they want to go play Classic, and in that case it all ends at 60.

        2) Other people want to get from 0 to 110 (now 50) as quickly as possible because they’re bringing a specific toon to endgame for their guild or raid group or whatever. Blizz has listened to these people, and given them multiple paths for this, at the expense of group 1.

        3) Other people want to get from 0 to max as quickly as possible because … help? Why would you want to play an alt and skip the process of being that alt to get to max other than group 2 goals? This is where I get, i dunno, confused, for lack of a better word. These are the people that seem to be the absolute winners as far as the current game design goes, as they’ve gotten their way on everything.

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  3. Hmm. I think the styles of play in question here are fundamentally at odds, so it isn’t too surprising that you’d be a little confused by ‘the other side’ as it were.

    Under one school of thought, as you say, it’s all the game. Leveling too. The journey across the leveling process is as important as any other aspect. The MMO Vanguard, in my opinion, did a fantastic job of emphasizing this style of play with key stories and substantial feeling things to do all along the way. LoTRO too I think, the story journey was great.

    The other school of thought sees leveling as a barrier to starting the real game. It’s an obstacle to overcome. WoW — in its current designs — and Diablo 3 (to some extent) help push players to this way of thinking. Get the leveling ‘out of the way’ and then you can start ‘truly’ developing your character’s power. Through legendary powers, set gear, perfecting the stats for optimal power. That gear chase though is what motivates them. Be it through raids as you called out, or dungeon progression from Normal to Heroics to Mythic 0’s to Mythics with Keys.

    These players spend many, many, many more hours on max level characters than they do levelling.

    Personally, I appreciate both styles but it depends on the game and context. I’m much more in the first camp, with you, when it comes to single-player RPGs or other story-heavy experiences. For most MMOs, or looter-shooters or ARPGs with an end-game, I personally lean much more heavily toward the second camp. 🙂

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    1. For me it’s a matter of value. I paid for 120 levels of game play. I come from the Wizardry / Gold Box school, the adventure isn’t just the final boss. Otherwise, why spend all that development time on the first 119 levels in the first place?

      I have absolutely no problem with a mechanism to skip over it. I do with mechanisms that trivialize it. Go ahead, pre-purchase the next expansion and get a boost, or spend 25 bucks on a boost. Hell, wish I could sell mine off on the AH.

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  4. I’m just a bit confused by the way you use Classic as a contrast here, because until I joined a guild it was definitely my go-to for some mindless soloing as well. Can it really get much more zen than killing 20 boars?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me, the amount of travel back and forth does take me out of it slightly. What I like about the modern experience (for that sort of zone out experience) is that most quests involve a minimum of that travel, so the time between quest pickup and combat gameplay is reduced. It’s a personal quirk and not indicative of anything but my preference in that specific case!

      Liked by 1 person

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