Remove Levels from WoW

Levels should be removed from World of WarCraft entirely.  They serve very little purpose.  I’m not talking about removing content, or removing zones, or removing anything in the game except for the act of leveling up.  If you want to explore, read some lore, or progress you still can, but remove the worthless gate holding people back.

WoW begins at the end.  Everything up to that point is just busy work.   The argument that it teaches people how to play their class is invalid since players reach the max level and are still capable of being terrible — not to mention leveling and doing max level content are nothing alike.  The only valid and irrefutable counter-point to this whole thing is if someone truly enjoys leveling up in WoW — not just the content (which I enjoy) but the act of having to level and progress to reach the new stuff at the end.  Read on the end where I offer up at least one likely solution.

The game is already moving people in this direction.  Skills aren’t trained anymore.  Talents function similar to Diablo 3 abilities where you choose between a couple each tier.  Time to level has been reduced so much that much of the content is now missed/skipped/worthless.

Make all content in the game the same “level” and have all players be the same “level”.  If someone wants to go to The Barrens and kill raptors, Dragonblight to hunt drakes, or some Panda zone to do whatever they do then the can the moment they make their character.  Normalize all zone content; Maybe do it how GW2 scales zones if making it all the same can’t be done.

Dungeons and Raids would still be the same.  The justice/valor point system would still work, just for every dungeon.  The same gear seasons and treadmill resets can happen.  Essentially NOTHING changes but the leveling up part.  The point is to get people to the point where the real game begins without presenting them with a major annoyance.  “But Keen, I think leveling up is the real game and who are you to tell me I can’t play the game the way I want to play?”  Well person with a valid thought, you’re still free to go do the content.  Do it all.  Do it in any order you want.  WoW has just reached that point where the leveling is worthless.

If this is a true themepark, go all the way.  If I want to ride space mountain before the tea cups, I will!  There will still be the pregnancy warning on Indiana Jones and you’re still going to have to be ‘this tall’ (have the right gear level) to enter some of the harder content.

I guarantee this is in WoW’s future.  If not this extreme, players will be able to make characters instantly max level and make leveling optional.  Mark my words.

  • You are essentially saying “it’s too late to save WoW’s leveling game,” and you’re almost certainly right, since Cataclysm was the chance to fix it and that didn’t happen. Insta-level to 80 is already in the game as part of the Scroll of Resurrection deal. As someone who found the leveling game in WoW to be the whole package’s most attractive feature, and who is bored to death by the endgame, it’s pretty much the end of WoW for me, I think.

  • IMO levels are a flawed mechanic in most MMOs, not just WoW.

    TSW has no character levels, but spoils it by using gear levels in their place. A pretty shallow disguise if you ask me.

    GW2 took a step in the right direction by scaling character levels to match the zone you’re in, but I’d prefer they take it a step further and come up with some other gating mechanism (if they have to gate content at all – I’m not convinced they do). Content gates should be based on achieving some tangible goal (e.g. killing the foozle), not X hours spent grinding repetetive content.

  • I’m in the same boat as Ardwulf. I gave up on WoW because the leveling game was wrecked by Cataclysm.

    I do agree with you though that for those wanting endgame the leveling seems silly and drawn out now. This is why I’ve given up on LoTRO a few times, I started late and it’s just too steep a hill to climb to catchup with the endgame (playing solo in all the zones doesn’t help).

    Blizzard used to be very good at taking a system, polishing it and adding it to their game. Old Blizzard would have already adapted a similar ‘auto-mentoring’ system to fix this. I am surprised they haven’t added another death knight style option to skip to Wrath at least (level 70).

  • For the three or four months that I played WoW, leveling up was the main driver of my motivation to log in. When my interest in leveling petered out around the mid-60s I stopped playing WoW and never went back.

    I’m not saying I think it would be impossible for me to enjoy MMOs that didn’t feature a leveling process, but I am very definitely saying that I have no interest in a “steady-state” environment in which I do not have clear, numerical markers that proceed incrementally.

    The level number is the clearest and most significant, but I appreciate all of the similar mechanics. I like skills that increment on use, preferably slowly and over a long period. I like faction that has to be earned incrementally and which is tabulated clearly in-game. I like currencies that can be accumulated and counted. And so on.

    For me, these are rarely things I want to acquire in order to use. I want to make those numbers go up. Filling out progress bars is a simple pleasure and an enduring one. I do actually sit and watch download bars fill out, without irony and with pleasure and not infrequently. It has a similar satisfaction value for me as a child pouring water from one jug into another to see the second jug fill up.

    This sits oddly with an interest in worldliness and character in MMOs, but there it is. If an MMO had no levels (and no level-equivalent alternative mechanic) I’m uncertain whether my interest would be aroused sufficiently to play at all, and I’m fairly sure such interest as I did have would not be sustained for as long.

  • The big question is what % of players would rather quit the game than play through levelling content.

    I believe this is more impactful for players who are levelling alts, so maybe an endgame item costing lots of JP/VP could allow you to promote 1 alt to endgame level would do the trick. This would be pretty easy to implement and would not invalidate the earlier content.

  • Keen, I don’t actually think you’ve got a handle on what you’re complaining about.

    First, you said: “The only valid and irrefutable counter-point to this whole thing is if someone truly enjoys leveling up in WoW — not just the content (which I enjoy) but the act of having to level and progress to reach the new stuff at the end.” But then contradict yourself with “WoW begins at the end. Everything up to that point is just busy work.” Do you enjoy it, or not? It’s not clear by what you wrote.

    One big reasons these levels are in place (in all games) to give a sense of progression.

    You just said that you enjoy the content, zones, questing, etc… what’s the difference if there’s a level awarded to you as you move through it? If you’re really playing the game you know that you will ding 90 with AT LEAST 2 full zones of questing remaining (and even that’s assuming you did NOTHING else to earn XP during your leveling process other than questing itself.)

    It’s the same reason GW2 doesn’t scale your level up – they are gating you from the end game and story, but mainly they want you to feel like your character is *progressing*. They don’t want your character to hop out of the box and fight Zhaitan – there would be no sense of satisfaction, storytelling (as shallow as that is in GW2) or progression. Players would be bored even more than they already are.

    I’m a proponent of having a game without levels, however there would still have to be progression mechanics and gating mechanics in place to truly give players an enjoyable experience and the sense of forward character progress.

  • “If not this extreme, players will be able to make characters instantly max level and make leveling optional. Mark my words.”

    In other news, the Titanic tragically sunk. Seriously though, the instant max level character has been discussed for several years now, surprised it took you this long to realise that.

  • “WoW begins at the end. Everything up to that point is just busy work.”

    I think you have that the wrong way round. WoW ends at the level cap. Everything after that point is just busy work.

    It is Blizzard’s genius to be able to get people to repeat tasks over and over, tasks that were often only mildly entertaining the first we did them, in order to build up “reputation” with this faction or that, to grind gear so we can use that gear to make grinding gear in instances easier. And why are we grinding for gear in instances? So we have better gear, to make the next instance even more of a faceroll.

    At least on the way to the level cap, we got to explore a world and experience new stories. After you reach the level cap, where’s the fun? As with every other expansion, a capital city will be full of static level-capped players stationary on improbably large mounts near a mailbox doing nothing except waiting in this lobby for their particular mini-game to start. Perhaps Pokemon will lure them out, but not much else.

  • @Bernard: Buying instant max levels with JP/VP isn’t a bad idea. Very clever.

    @Lethality: WoW is like 8 years old. Blizzard tried hard to revive the leveling experience in Cataclysm, but it was short lived. I’m not saying remove levels from themeparks in general, but for WoW it’s time.

    Leveling in WoW no longer makes sense. With a few heirlooms one dungeon will get you enough experience to skip entire zones. I no longer see levels as a benchmark for progression in WoW. WoW character progression happens at the max level, and to your point about gating something for progression that can very well exist as it currently does without the need for people to level up.

    @Dave: Has it happened yet? No. Has WoW continued to move leveling gameplay even further toward obsolescence? Yes. What was your point again?

    @Dà Chéng: I have always praised leveling in WoW as the best part. There are two sides to that coin, though. There’s the actual content, and the act of having to go through it all. The content itself is nice, but having to get those 89 levels on an alt is tedious if someone isn’t playing that alt for the experience of having that particular character go through the content. Two, four, seven, years ago I would have agreed. Like I said above, leveling in WoW is moving too close to obsolescence for its existence to be a justified activity.

  • We’ll see 🙂

    Leveling is such a core part of WoW, I bet the game will get retired before it disappears as a game mechanic.

    While a pain, I think it’s still an effective way to keep some people busy. And subscription models are all about keeping people busy doing something so they don’t decide to unsub.

    But I wouldn’t be surprised to see more ways to accelerate the process from 1 – 85 (or whatever the base becomes for each new expansion). There are already a bunch of ways (Death Knights — and aren’t they someday going to let you have more than one DK per server? another crazy vestigial restriction — ; recruit-a-friend, scrolls of resurrection, etc.). I could almost, almost see them offering a level boost option in their cash shop if you already have a max level character.

    In terms of GW2 and auto-scaling: I really like GW2 and enjoy being able to play in any zone and hope they keep adding content in all level zones to keep players coming back, but have to admit I miss the ability to occasionally “uber-OP” romp through a lower zone/dungeon solo like I can in WoW. Especially as the userbase in GW2 starts accumulating in higher end zones, I wonder if lower end zones may eventually become really quiet and then content designed for groups will be all but unplayable solo.

  • I think Guild Wars 1 had the right approach to this problem – levels, but with the option to skip straight to the cap for PVP if you did not want to play them. From the first cap increase at TBC, Blizzard’s philosophy in WoW has been that the time to level cap cannot increase because it is a mandatory prerequisite for endgame. This has been a large driver for the trivializing of the leveling experience for everyone. The real tragedy of Cataclysm is all of the content that isn’t even useful because you level so fast past all of it.

    That said, as Lethality notes, progression is a core part of the “RPG” genre. I don’t think it’s good design to dump new characters in the newbie zone with three full hotbars of skills, and doing so completely removes the concept of meaningful rewards (i.e. anything that actually changes how you play, rather than just increasing arbitrary stats). If you did not offer instant capped characters, you could try some sort of mentoring up system, but I suspect that min-maxing will prohibit taking an up-leveled character to endgame content.

  • @Dà Chéng I agree completely, all the “end game” has anymore is people running the same grind over and over again for gear. Once they get that gear they repeat with the “new” instance to get more new gear. It never stops, it’s just always the same thing over and over. The game doesn’t end then but if you want to call something a pointless grind the end game qualifies just as much.

  • Leveling isn’t the problem, the problem is mmorpg’s as a genre. They used to be a social network dressed up as a game. We don’t need that anymore.

    R.i.p. mmorpg’s. It was a great run. But these days you don’t hold a candle to BL2 or XCom or Defiance or Skyrim or Skylanders or TL2 or…

  • You said in your last blog post, that you didn’t mind doing stuff for a reward, as long as it wasn’t a chore. Has leveling in wow become a chore?

  • How can it be a chore if you enjoy it?

    Leveling disappears if you simply play the game. This goes for WoW, GW2, RIFT and others.

    But if you don’t enjoy the activities that provide you the levels… why play anyway?

    • It’s not hard to understand. I’ve gone through the leveling content so many times in WoW that there is nothing new to see until the very last levels of expansion content. The content has been out for almost 8 years.

      Leveling through that content has been trivialized. In my opinion, it ceases to be content when it is simply in the way. So while I think the leveling “content” is well-done, it is now obsolete and the act of going through that obsolete content is a chore.

  • I see where you are coming from. I always forget I tend to play these games differently than many.

    I am a “one-character” guy as I believe that is purest way to play an RPG – progress my character as far in as many ways as possible over time. I only have one WoW character since November 23, 2004 (and in every game since.)

    So I can see what you are saying in that context, sorry if I missed it earlier.

  • If Blizzard continually updates the experience for characters in the mid-levels this wouldn’t be as big of an issue. The nature of WoW updates, however, are all catered to the max level “end-game” and to get there you have to have a capped character.

    For example, if I want to level a Warrior I now have to go back through the 1-85 content. Unfortunately, I’ve done that 1-85 content more than a dozen times. I just want a Warrior to play in the new content. I don’t want to play a warrior to experience the same stuff I have done from 1-85 a dozen times — thus it is now a chore.

    This is one of the biggest downfalls of vertical expansion, and a really unfortunate one since it makes so much content — well designed content — obsolete.

  • This is the inherent problem with CRPGs when it comes down to it in my opinion. If we look back at Dungeons and Dragons, where all this comes from, levels are a pretty neat idea. They give you a sense of your character learning in the world, progressing, etc. But the thing is, *every* Dungeon and Dragons campaign is a one off. The entire concept of separating “leveling content” and “end game” exists only because it is impossible to keep creating content at a pace for a CRPG. A DM can always run a new (even if generic) adventure – and good DMs can do it on the fly if pressed. The fact that there isn’t a DM in CRPGs really makes the entire system eventually fall apart.

    INCIDENTALLY, this is why I still think Neverwinter NIghts, with its DM tools, is the best CRPG I have ever played. Persistent Worlds were just like their own little mini-MMOs, but they also had DMs who could use the toolset to run unique one off events and adventures on the fly, keep things interesting, etc. I would love to see a new game come out which focuses on giving players the toolset, a player client AND a DM client like NWN did.

  • No levels and no grinding, repetitive activities? You’re in the wrong genre!

    What is left besides a really lame version of Diablo at that point?

    MMO’s are hamster wheels. If you break the hamster wheel you break the game.

  • I think part of the problem is that they have not consistently added leveling content in expansions, they stuck with just adding end game content for what 3 of the 4. And in the one expansion with new leveling content it replaced what was there instead of adding more variety. The end result is that there are only a few leveling paths. And because they sped up and made the leveling even simpler it doesn’t take long before you’ve seen it all. In vintage EQ not only was leveling slow but many of the early expansions added lots of mid level content. I’ve easily got more memories of crazy wins and loses in EQ than in WoW, even though I played WoW for longer. In EQ they also obsoleted old content at a much slower pace. I didn’t start playing until Velious was live and I still spent a lot of time in dragon raids to kill Vox and Naggy which were from the original game.

  • Guild Wars 2 has the best (that I’ve tried, and I’ve tried most) PvE levelling yet, and yet my character is still only level 71 and I’m struggling to login and finish the damn levelling grind so I can WvW properly. If they put a “jump to level 80” item in the store for 30 bucks, even now, I would buy it.

    Just to save myself the grind. Right now I’m tooling around in Planetside 2, XCOM, and FTL instead of trying to finish the GW2 grind.

    And in the end, levelling is a grind. It is a barrier to stop me from what I want to do until I have completed X, Y and Z. Even SWTOR, which had a much better story than anything up until now, had a grindy feeling at some point.

    I agree with the comment about DMs being able to eliminate the grind by creating new unique and on the fly challenges, I wonder how it would be possible to integrate something like that into modern MMOs in order to remove the grind, or if the levelling(or gear) grind will always be a part of MMOs.