Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Figuring It Out

 My experiments with World of Warcraft's new leveling options continue. Largely unsuccessfully.

Well, not unsuccessfully in terms of the levelling itself, I guess. That's going fine. I played my goblin shaman for a couple of hours last night and she went from ten to thirteen, which is level thirty in old money.

As I commented this morning over at Ulalu's blog, I'm finding the new system unexpectedly confusing. I thought the whole point of the revamp was to make everything simpler and clearer. It seems to have had the opposite effect, at least on me.

So far I've made two new characters, one Alliance and one Horde, both on the same unsubscribed account with no max-level characters. I've used the endless free trial, which allows you to make characters and play them to the new level twenty, which would be the mid-forties under the old method of counting.

Both characters were offered the option of starting in either their original, racial starting zones or in the new, universal starting zone, Exile's Reach. Supposedly only "veteran" accounts get that option. Having completed the new tutorial zone, however, neither received the dialog option I was reliably informed they should have had that would have allowed them to opt out of the introductory tour of their respective capital cities in favor of moving straight to the expansion of their choice.

As things stand I have a level ten worgen hunter in Stormwind who has visited Chromie, the expansion-of-choice facilitator, only to be told to finish the tour and come back later, and a level thirteen goblin shaman, now committed to helping the trolls of Zandalar with their seemingly endless series of trivial chores.

Anyone else getting those Roger Dean flashbacks again?.


I was planning on taking the shaman to see Orgrimmar's version of Chromie once her introductory tour ended but the whole thing moved so seamlessly into the beginning of Battle for Azeroth I didn't even spot the join. I was enjoying the pretty good BfA opening movie before I knew what was happening and by then it was too late.

Which is fine. I'm determined to get my Vulpera fox-person started at some point and to do that I'll need a Horde character capable of getting the quests, for which they'll need to be, I'm guessing, at least level forty-five, which would have been one hundred and ten, entry level for the expansion when BfA launched. I'll have to subscribe to get that high, of course, and for all I know I might need to do the last five levels as well. I'll find out when I get there.

There seems to be a lot of that going on right now. The only way to find out how things work is to try them for myself. Just looking stuff up on the internet isn't cutting it. I'm not finding my experience in game to be an exact match with what I'm reading. 

It's maybe not all that surprising. There are a lot of moving parts. Does it make a difference whether the account is subbed or not? Does it matter whether you have a maximum level character? Does that mean the maximum possible at the time the account was last subbed or the maximum during Battle for Azeroth? Is the game checking flags for things you've done, maybe by way of achievements? Does it know whether you really have already made yourself familiar with the capital cities or is it just going to take your word for it? 

I'd hate to be a street-cleaner in this town.


Once you've gotten started on Battle for Azeroth content, can you just drop out, talk to Chromie and start over somewhere else? Can you do that over and over again? And what if you don't take the tour or talk to Chromie? How about if you just arrive in Stormwind, fresh from Exile's Reach, then turn around, walk out the gate and go start leveling in Westfall and Redridge?

Honestly, this feels to me exactly like a beta. I'm really hyped to go out and experiment with all this stuff. I feel like making a slew of new characters and trying out all the options and seeing what I can break. I'd like to try doing the same things on an established free account, an established, subscribed account and a brand-new, free account to see what the differences are.

One thing I'm pretty sure about is that doing all that unpaid testing would be a lot more intellectually stimulating than playing the game itself. As Ula points out, leveling in Retail WoW is almost entirely challenge-free. So far I've found it next to impossible to get into any kind of trouble. Most mobs die in two casts. Healing seems a distant memory. I've yet to need to eat or drink anything, make anything, buy anything or do anything at all other than click on NPCs and equip quest rewards.

Hey! None of this was my idea!


As far as I've gotten, the game pretty much plays itself. How am I staying focused? Or even awake?

Well, the scenery in Zandalar is spectacular. WoW's graphics may be stylized but they very definitely don't look outdated. Exploring would probably be fun, just for the screenshots, if I ever managed to step off the questline conveyor belt.

Speaking of quests, they literally never stop. Every one leads inexorably to another. There is no respite. At all. The writing is... okay, I guess. It's better than functional but not by a lot. I'm a dedicated reader of quest dialog in all games I play but here I do find myself skipping lines, paragraphs even, almost involuntarily. 

The trolls seem like they ought to be amusing but somehow they rarely are. There's clearly a discussion to be had about their ethnicity. I'm guessing that's a converation that's been had elsewhere, already. It would pretty much have to have been. I can just about deal with the voice-acting but the phonetic rendering of the accent in the quest text is... difficult.

I feel like I want to say something but maybe I shouldn't?

As for the action, the quest designers clearly try to keep themselves amused by trying every variation in the playbook, even when the result mitigates against reason, sanity or enjoyment. I'm all for a bit of variety but I find myself wishing I could just go somewhere and kill stuff for a level without having to deal with the minutiae of troll politics for a while. Or doing their tedious chores.

Even so, the time passed fairly painlessly last night as I burned through all my rested experience and added three levels to my tally. I'm reasonably keen to carry on. Can't say I feel very involved, though. It's a weirdly passive experience, somehow.

My mind keeps drifting back to the externals. I really would like to get to the bottom of how this new leveling process works. Only I suspect that would take a lot more effort and time than I'm going to feel comfortable giving it. 

It's one thing to explore the structural limits of a game in beta but it seems kind of strange doing the same thing in the latest live release of one of the biggest, oldest, most successful games of its kind in the entire world. You'd figure there were people being paid to do that, wouldn't you?


  1. I will get to this in a post later, but with a new character I could not get the option to choose the expansion path until I had gone into the BFA expansion and had finished the tour of Boralus, the alliance town. After that I was able to recall back to Stormwind and it was there we chose Wrath to move forward with.

    1. That's very interesting. I'd read that you ned to do the "BfA introductory quests" before Chromie will set you up with the expansion you want but I haven't tried to narrow down just what that means. Alliance-Chromie, though, as you can clearly see in the screenshot I included in the last post, tells me she might be able to send me back into the past when I've "toured the city and met the king", by which I assume she means Stormwind.

      So very much not the simple solution I think we were all probably expecting!

  2. /Sigh

    The more I read about Retail --including your posts, Bhaggy, the less I'm inclined to play it. Interest in the lore (and the Mary Sue/Marty Stu pair of Jaina and Thrall) has been sucked out of me by the endless lack of interesting things to do. The leveling experience as you describe it highlights the problem WoW created: the belief that the game begins at max level means that people aren't interested in the journey, but the endgame.

    Even people I know in Classic who are going to play in Retail are all about the "stuff" --the character creation options, the pets, the transmog, the allied races-- rather than the story itself. And those that are interested in the story give me a backstory that sounds so convoluted that it sounds like a telanovela plotline.

    I feel more and more like a stick in the mud these days rather than someone on board the hype train. Perhaps it's the knowledge that in retail associating with people beyond the basic "Hi" and "Thanks" just leads nowhere. I remember the old blog WoW Alone, where Darth Solo tried to play WoW in Wrath on his terms as a completely soloable experience, and whereas he was more the exception to the rule back then, his goals became the rule over time.

    1. Leveling in Retail WoW is such a strange hybrid. The almost complete removal of any challenge almost turns it into some kind of "walking simulator" visual novel but the story really doesn't support that style very well. I have found it particularly striking, coming to it immediately after leveling up in Genshen impact. I mean, I'm not saying GI's story is anything more than a very familiar take on some extremely well-worn, off-the-peg fantasy riffs, but it has a zest, an enthusiasm and a twinkle that makes the tired old cliches feel, if not fresh, then at least lovingly re-furbished. The storylines in WoW aren't bad - at least the quest stories I'm seeing aren't - but they feel simultaneously stretched out and undercooked, as though the writers liked the basic idea but lost interest in it almost immediately after they came up with it, then had to string it out to a set length anyway to meet some external benchmark.

      I'm not saying I'm not enjoying it. I kind of am. But it's a strange experience. The oddest part is that it doesn't really feel like I'm playing a video game. More like I'm watching one being played. maybe that's intentional in these days of mass-market audiences for streaming services?

    2. If it feels like you're watching a game being played, perhaps what they were aiming for in the first place. That they're not really interested in the "low level" areas at all, but only the current expac. And even there, the endgame of said expac.

      Remember, the level squish and "the new starter zone" + "last expac" design was for "new" players to WoW. Before this, it was the "instant L120" or whatever that you could buy as a new player to skip everything and get straight to the latest expac. Nothing is stopping a player from going back and examining all of the other areas in Azeroth, but trying to make sense of it all can be so confusing to a new player --especially given the heavy use of phasing in game-- that anybody who tries is pretty much on their own.

      From my perspective, WoW is less about getting new players and more about keeping the ones they have left.

  3. I found the Horde side of BfA to be less well done than the Alliance side. The questing, writing, and exploring of all those troll zones was a slog for me to get through.

    The Alliance side isn't brilliant, but I think general consensus was that it's a better experience.

    1. Oh, that's interesting. After one evening with them I can't help but feel a little of the trolls goes quite a long way. Plus that ziggurat is a real pain to navigate. I have to get through it if I want my Vulpera. Otherwise I doubt I'd bother. I usually favor Alliance anyway.

  4. I've also been exploring the new Starter Edition, and also been quite confused by it all, but I am starting to figure out some of it.

    I still haven't cracked how to access Chromie time (as someone who never played BfA, I'm not sure I can), but I have managed to get to a point where I can access all the other expansions and just go quest there anyway.

    What I did was ignore the city tour and just hop on the boat from Stormwind to Northrend. I got a warning that I was about to leave the tutorial, clicked okay, and wound up in the Borean Tundra as per normal.

    Then, I went back to Stormwind and found that a bevy of new quests had opened up. Most notably, the "Heroes' Call" bulletin boards now offer a variety of breadcrumb quests to various leveling zones, including both old world stuff and alternate expansions, like Pandaria and Draenor. Just to add further confusion, though, the board only shows three breadcrumbs at a time, seemingly chosen at random, and the only way to access more is to accept some, close the window, and access the board again.

    It's nice being to able to go wherever you like, but the system is anything but straightforward.

    1. Wilhelm has a handy chart up in his post today showing how the various expansions are still available "horizontally" as well as verticaly. It seems as though most of the pre-patch leveling options still exist pretty much as before with the new ones layered over the top. I had the impression from the way the level squish was presented that it was going to be a complete revamp, with the old way of levelling disappearing for good, but it seems not.

      I just put two levels on my Druid in Darkshire, which is where she's been since ebfore the patch, and everything seems exactly the same as it was before. I'm very happy they've left us with the option of carrying on as if nothing has happened but I can't see how they've done anything at all to make leveling simpler or more straightforward. More confusing and complicated, definitely!

  5. leveling in Retail WoW is almost entirely challenge-free

    The early levelling is certainly as easy as ever, but we've found that difficulty does ramp up a bit once you get into the higher levels. It's unclear how much of that is intentional though... my husband found it hard to play his death knight alt for example since he had no way of regenerating health between combats yet, and for some reason all the food he could cook or buy was tagged as requiring level 45 or above to eat...

    1. I saw plenty of complaints about the difficulty of leveling through the final ten levels over the past couple of years but I thought that mostly related to the issues over things actually getting harder as you acquired better gear, some peculiarity of BfA's specific progression system.

      In most MMORPGs combat does get harder as you get to the high end of the mid levels, though, so I guess you'd expect it to happen to some degree. I'll find out when I get there, which I'll have to do eventualy if I want that fox character.


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