Parallel context posted recently about the seeming dearth of people in leveling zones. You should go read the post, because it struck a chord with me.
I’ve been trying to level up Ancelyn, my warlock, and it’s been a very lonely adventure. Feralas had only three players in the zone on Friday evening. Even Outland has been mostly deserted, leveling Annata usually means being in a zone with fewer than 10 other people, many of whom outlevel the zone and are there to farm something, or to help speed-level a friend or alt.
Seeing that, and reading Redbeard’s post, I don’t wonder what’s in store for the leveling game in Mists. Blizzard’s re-do of the original world for Cataclysm provided a new leveling experience, for sure – but it’s a disjointed one. It used to be that you moved forward in the game from “old to new” as you leveled. Now you’ll complete the Plaguelands, where it’s obvious the Lich King is gone, only to later encounter him, alive and well, in Northrend.
The original zones did a good job of not being tied specifically to an end game – they were non-linear, often having quests that traded back and forth, which was occasionally a pain in the ass, but also helped the world feel more connected. Azeroth didn’t feel like it was always gearing up for a big fight against any one bad-guy – the raid instances were their own separate story that you didn’t encounter until you were at or close to level 60. Moving to Outland was a normal progression, because Illidan really only made a lot of influence in Shadowmoon Valley, and you didn’t see Vashj (just lots of Naga) unless you actually raided Serpentshrine Cavern.
That got a lot of criticism at the time, because people had trouble finding a connection to Outland – which I understand partially (it was a huge environment jump), but moving into Wrath, Arthas shows up a LOT. There is no question that Northrend is the home of the Lich King, even if he’s already been killed. And now that the original world has been revamped, a lot of the content is both extremely linear and oriented towards Deathwing. Some areas aren’t (Hinterlands, Arathi Highlands), but Annata’s entire leveling path through the southern half of Eastern Kingdoms was related to the Twilight Cult and Deathwing.
So the leveling chronology is just weird now. Outland isn’t so bad, because it’s easy to level there without having a feeling of “time” in the greater story – but hitting Northrend after doing Eastern Plaguelands is just /weird/. There are also fewer leveling paths now that the quests are streamlined, so it’s harder to choose a totally different experience for each character.
Once Mists hit, it’ll be interesting to see if anything changes or if Blizzard will stick with the Big Hero fighting the Big Bad Guy style. I know I’ve had a lot of trouble caring about replaying the Cataclysm zones – I have two characters stuck at level 81, and I leveled one of my 85′s entirely through Archaeology. (Which is probably another reason the original leveling zones are quiet – you can level entirely through PVP and LFD.)
So we’ll see. Mists will revive the leveling game again, at least for a short while, but I can’t help but wonder if Blizzard would’ve been better not putting so much of the end bosses in the actual questing of the game. Supposedly Mists will be less heavy on the “Big Bad” style of storyline, so perhaps it’ll be better at being immersive in the new zones.
I’ve got more thoughts on linear questing too, especially as it relates to Star Wars, but I think that’s another post.
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