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Things that were harder before

Things that were harder before
I did a post this week about raiding in previous expansions and in vanilla WoW, and how people often say those raids were harder and my opinion that it is easily demonstrable that current raids are if anything more complicated than they have ever been. I frankly believe there is almost no room for comparison between the game at 60 and today in terms of raid complexity and difficulty. Part of this stems from the many different variations on what the word hard means in this context. Something can be harder because it is conceptually or executionally more complex (the difficulty can stem from how much is required to successfully complete its mechanics) or it can be hard because it is laborious and/or time consuming. Was raiding with 40 people in classic WoW more laborious? Absolutely it was. It wasn't mechanically harder, but it was more time consuming and took a great deal of effort to organize and plan. It's the difference between working out a complex multi-stage math problem and carrying five thousand pounds of rocks from point A to point B.

But there were some points worth addressing. It absolutely has never been easier to level, even without heirlooms, than it is right now. Vanilla leveling to 60 took more time and effort than leveling to 90 does today. Even without heirlooms, one can easily and without much stress reach level 20 in a few hours, level 40 in less than two days, and be level 60 within a day of that, and this isn't spending all day staring at the screen either. This is a fairly casual leveling pace. I leveled a blood elf warrior to 35 in two days of rather casual play, an hour on followed by a half hour reading websites or having a snack or even going for a long walk.

It's also far easier to do the following things:
  1. Get a dungeon group. You can queue for dungeons at level 15, and from that point on, all you ever have to do to run a dungeon is hit that queue. If you're playing in the tank or healing role you can effectively chain dungeons all day, and even leveling as DPS there are stretches where you don't even need to quest or do anything but dungeon.
  2. Run a battleground. While you could argue that doing well at BG running as you level up and at max level takes some time and effort, if you want to risk queueing in whatever gear you have, it's simplicity itself.
  3. Getting ready to raid at max level. The game now has catchup mechanisms in place for players who start later. If you just got your alt to 90 and are switching to it for raiding, deciding to give raiding a try for the first time, or what have you it's not the case that your raid group is compelled to run you through previous raids for attunements and keys, much less gearing you through older raids to get ready for the current content.
  4. Find something to do. You could even argue that there's too much to do, or that it feels too mandatory. But you can't argue you don't have options - if you don't want to run dungeons, raid, or PvP there are pet battles, daily quests and scenarios you can do.
So the question then becomes this: is it better or worse for the game that these things are easier? For that matter, are they easy enough?
Things that were harder before
The fact is, the difficulty of some of these activities has waxed and waned over the years. I would argue that getting caught up at max level was the easiest it has ever been during the Wrath era: I remember going into heroic dungeons with undergeared fresh-90 alts and blowing up everything in sight for an afternoon and coming out with players geared to raid, with heroic dungeon drops and Emblems aplenty to buy gear with. This was not only the most catch-up friendly WoW has ever been, it's the most alt friendly the game has ever been. Even I, adverse as I am to playing other classes, got my shaman and DK to max level and ran some raids on them, it was just that easy to get their gear caught up.

To be honest, I don't know and can't say how good for the game that level of ease was. I know a lot of players seem to miss being able to get their alts caught up like that - just based on community feedback I'd say a vocal minority (at the least) would very much like it if they could spend a couple of days in heroics and come out with gear competitive with raiding. While LFR exists, one of the changes made for Mists of Pandaria is that older tiers of LFR are needed to run the more recent LFR, because Raid Finder is seen as an alternative progression track of its own. Since LFR only debuted at the end of Cataclysm we didn't get a chance to see it handle multiple tiers of raiding before, but one thing is clear - today, whether it is intentional or not, LFR has replaced random dungeons as the means by which players gear up their alts and play catch up for their mans, and it is not as convenient as heroic dungeon running was in Wrath. Again we come back to the idea of difficulty being measured in different ways. Is LFR particularly mentally taxing? No, not really. But having to run it over and over again can feel just as hard, in a manner of speaking, as the old days of running UBRS 127 times trying to get the Draconian Deflector.

Did Wrath have it right?

To look at it from another direction, it was much, much harder to level an alt at all in classic. It wasn't much easier in BC, and it wasn't until Wrath that we saw widescale improvements to the system with the introduction of scaling heirlooms and reductions in the amount of XP needed for leveling. Cataclysm revamped the old world and made for streamlined questing for the first 60 levels. So it is fair to say that leveling is not difficult now. The addition of LFD and experience in PvP battlegrounds made the matter even more pronounced. The question becomes this: is it good for the game that we can level easier than ever? Or does it combine with the difficulty shift from Wrath for endgame catch-up to create frustration in players who have blazed a new alt to 90, only to have to slow down considerably as they then gear for heroic dungeons, then LFR, and then possible normal raids? If you can level a character to 90 in a blast, but then have to slow down once you hit 90, would you have been better off having had to take it slower on your way up in the first place? Gated reputation grinds that prevent you from spending the points you acquire only add to the frustration.

Again, I can't say that I have an answer for that question. I know that I personally tend to focus all of my effort and attention on one or two characters that I can gear up the best. With the rise of cross-realm play I no longer have to worry so much about having multiple high level alts on multiple servers to play with my friends scattered around the game. So perhaps a slow leveling curve would keep players from feeling like they rushed all that way and now have to stop, or maybe it would just frustrate them more and lead them to quit trying.

Of those things I listed before, I'd say that leveling has maintained its steadily reduced 'difficulty' in terms of the labor needed to get to max level, that catch up was easiest in Wrath and has since gotten harder (but still not as hard as it was in classic or BC), and that there may be some room to explore how these two factors interact in the modern game.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

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