No rush to 80

19th February 2009 – 10.34 am

Having installed the Wrath of the Lich King expansion within a couple of days of its release and loaded it almost daily since then I think it is fair to say that with only two 74th level characters I am in no rush to reach the new level cap. I would like to say that it is not the destination that is important but the journey, the myriad sights and experiences in which to indulge that carry us through the world and shape our characters. Rather than perceive a blur of rapidly changing colours as I race through zones I instead take time to realise how each zone is now broken down in to distinct regions with their own colours and geography, marvelling at how much different scenery can be packed in to a single area. I read the quests given to me, bringing the world to life as more than a collection of pixels. I savour the new continent. Well, I used to.

I was enjoying my journey and not concerned about reaching the destination up until I realised the game was telling me something I never expected from a supposed RPG: the destination is more important than the journey. Or, perhaps, the journey doesn't start until you reach the level cap, levelling no longer being the journey but the sleepy-eyed walk from the manor to the stables, and treated with about as much respect.

Whether it is the stupidly high level restriction on getting in to Dalaran, having to unlock quest content in every zone for every character, or simply not being able to pick up quests a couple of levels higher than me Wrath of the Lich King seems intent on keeping me away from the new content. Once I am at 80th level I get the impression these problems will either not exist or be greatly diminished, but until then levelling seems more like a chore than the very nature of the game.

Of course it is possible to get a mage to open a portal to Dalaran for you before 74th level, or a warlock could summon you to the city, after which you have continued access, but if these loopholes are in place to begin with and are going to be exploited why is there a level restriction in the first place? If players are going to find ways to get to the major hub of all characters and gateway to all cities because of its immense convenience why put an unreasonable restriction on its access? Getting in to Dalaran seems to me to be inflicted with a kind of MMORPG DRM, an unnecessary inconvenience that is easy to bypass.

The level restrictions and unlocking of quest content is rather more frustrating, as there is no way to bypass it. You cannot get access to the majority of quests in the quest hub until you have completed a small initial quest chain. When you get to a new settlement you will only see a single quest available—the quests to be unlocked aren't even shown as grey exclamation marks—and it would be reasonable to assume, from previous content, that there is only this one quest available, encouraging you to move on to other settlements. It is after you complete this one quest that a whole slew of yellow exclamation marks light up the mini-map, and it is only then that you can tell you have more to do. Indeed, such is the nature of this problem that you may end up doing a small quest chain for an NPC with the expectation of unlocking significant content only to discover that there is nothing left to do afterwards and realise your time could have been more productive elsewhere.

Having to unlock content also slows down progression considerably. Rather than picking up a handful of quests and running around the zone completing them in an arbitrary order the nature of the intial chain slows you down to linear quest completion, and this seems to be the case for each settlement in each zone. If this weren't frustrating enough, it all has to be done for every character the player brings in to the zone. I didn't mind playing through the chains to get a better sense of story with my first character, but my second just wants to gain some XP and having to unlock quest content becomes a significant impediment to that.

There also seem to be harsher level restrictions placed on quests and their respective zones. Whilst unlocking quests is irritating I find the level restrictions to be more serious, as it kills my explorer spirit. I have occasionally gone out for a ride on my mount to see what other wondrous sights exist in Northrend and the hideous monsters that are determined to keep me out of their habitats. Although I expect to have to turn around and return to safer areas for the most part I would like my spirit to be rewarded every now and again. But when I venture in to Sholazar Basin at 74th level only to have to turn around without even being able to pick up the flight point I get seriously frustrated, particularly as the zone is mostly full of mobs that I can fight without too much of a challenge.

Rather than letting me decide whether I want the challenge of slightly higher-level mobs or not the game resoundly rejects me from Sholazar Basin. It doesn't matter if I get bored with the zone I am in or just want a change of scenery my path has already been chosen independent of my desires. As already noted, my quest to find Dalaran was equally disappointing. If there is no extrinsic benefit to exploring the corners of the world then I am effectively discouraged from doing so and a part of the appeal of having a world to discover is lost, which becomes significant to someone who likes to uncover the map for more than simple achievements.

This is not to say that World of Warcraft or Burning Crusade didn't have the same issues, as there have always been quest chains and level restrictions, but never before have they seemed so harsh. I remember wanting to avoid repeating most of Hellfire Peninsula with my death knight, so I skipped across to Zangarmarsh and got right in to the quests at 60th level, even though the peninsula can boost you to 63rd, which opens the expansion up nicely to repeated playing. But being stuck in Borean Tundra or Howling Fjord until you can start getting quests in Dragonblight at 72nd level is far from appealing when considering runing an alt to Northrend.

Perhaps all the players racing to get to the level cap in the previous expansion, with the focus on raiding, have influenced what World of Warcraft is meant to be. I am not trying to blame anyone, simply wondering why levelling is no longer as unconstrained as it used to be. It's not as if there is more of a challenge, the MMORPG taken out of easy mode, the player is just thrown against arbitrary game mechanic obstacles that impede being a hero.

I was wondering if a general malaise had settled over me when I was logging in and becoming more occupied with fluffy world events than questing, but with the events over I still have a lack of desire to head back to Northrend to quest. Instead, I have run Stratholme and The Scholomance solo with my death knight, gone in to Lower Blackrock Spire to get some pets, run Auchindoun instances to help a druid gain Lower City reputation, and taken both my warrior and death knight in to battlegrounds. Apart from PvP it has all been old content, old content that is polished to a shiny finish indeed. Maybe soon I can push past what hopefully is the equivalent of 5th level in third edition D&D and rekindle the flame of Northrend levelling.

  1. 2 Responses to “No rush to 80”

  2. There is a definite tangible hump around levels 74-75. I've no idea why that is though, I should have done an analysis on required XP per level versus quest XP on my second run through, but I didn't think about it at the time. Once you get past that, which generally means you're into the Grizzly Hills and or Sholazar Basin content, things improve dramatically and progress is effortless and enjoyable again. At least that's how I found it to be on both runs through.

    By Melmoth on Feb 19, 2009

  3. Yeah, I'll get back out there at some point. The good part is that there are still fun ways to play the game even if not actively progressing the XP bar.

    I've also just started the reputation grind for a Netherwing Drake, which will keep me logging in. With the apparent increase in mob spawns and drop rates to 100% it is still an interesting collection of quests but now with less grind.

    By pjharvey on Feb 19, 2009

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