Leveling in World of Warcraft is horribly broken and I still adore it
I don’t think it’s disputable that leveling in World of Warcraft is utterly and completely disjointed. And the current hotness, WoW Classic, is a 15-year-old game with the leveling curve that originally drove me to near frenzy around level 51, so frankly it’s not better. I played it on the beta. I played it back when it was new. I know how long leveling takes there, and I know I no longer have the time in my schedule for nine-hour playing jags. But the retail game, with its full heirlooms and zone scaling, is just plain incoherent.
Go ahead and try to sit down and level a new character in World of Warcraft. It’s disjointed enough when you’re in the 1-to-60 game, but once you start hitting expansions it gets really weird. You can level from 60 to 80 without finishing either expansion around which those levels were centered. I did one Burning Crusade zone and one Wrath zone, and that was it — I was level 81 and ready to go straight to Pandaria, skipping the entirety of Cataclysm. And the thing is, I’m not even convinced this is a bad thing.
In terms of how leveling works in Classic, I’m fine with it being awful. It was awful then — it absolutely should be awful now. That’s both because some people enjoy that — I mean, looking at Twitch, you’d think everybody enjoyed it — and because that’s what Blizzard promised. An authentic original WoW experience. And there was a lot there I loved — if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have done it so many times on so many different Warriors. And one poor, stupid Paladin.
As for modern World of Warcraft, I’m okay with leveling being haphazard. I am okay with being able to pick and choose a few zones and get leveled up without having to stay and exhaustively complete the entire expansion. If anything, I think that instead of heirlooms, we should have the bonus XP baked right in once we level our first character to max level — I think heirlooms keep serving as a gold sink so that you have to buy them for the current max-level every expansion, when instead getting to whatever max level currently is should simply give you a bonus to XP once you achieve it. But even without heirlooms of any kind, leveling now isn’t nearly so grueling that you need to grub for every quest and clear out every zone, and that’s fine.
Embrace the madness
There’s nothing inherently virtuous about having done everything.
I’m going to say that one again. There’s nothing about having cleared every zone in Northrend or on Pandaria for the tenth time that in any way justifies making players have no recourse but to do it. The fact that you can skip almost all of alternate Draenor now is a feature of the leveling system. The cost of a disjointed leveling system is worth it for the benefit of being free to pick and choose what you want to do. There are so many quests and so many expansions — it’s good that we have the ability to choose which ones we feel like taking part in.
The leveling game in World of Warcraft is a mess because it’s trying to keep twelve years of expansions relevant. It will always be a mess. That’s fine. The idea that every quest and every dungeon should be relevant on your 20th character feels like it misses the point. The more options we have, the more we can choose to skip, and that choice isn’t inferior. And choosing to not do it — or lobbying to remove it — doesn’t ennoble anyone. If you want to play the game on hard mode, feel free to drop all your heirlooms and finish every zone in order. No one is going to stop you.
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