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Level Scaling: The Good & Bad

World of Warcraft releases their worldwide scaling patch here real soon. The whole idea of content scaling in MMORPGs is an interesting one that has me going back and forth positives and negatives.

First, let's just get some definitions out of the way so we can all be speaking in context. "Level scaling" in WoW is basically where the player scales to the content (which is actually a little contradictory when people are referring to it as "world scaling"). So basically, someone at level 100 can be in a zone and someone level 110 can be in a zone but their stats and the enemy are all equalized.

Other games have scaling. Some similar some different. Some games scale group members together. Some let a player "mentor" down to another player's level and then that player is scaled down to someone at that level's abilities.

My thoughts are going to be specifically toward the newest and trendiest way of scaling as seen in WoW.


The Good

Level scaling gives you lots of options. Players can go to whatever zone they want. Imagine if the world scaled and a level 100 could go to the Barrens and level up. It's neat to have that freedom. It's also nice because it gives you a challenge wherever you go and the world can stay relevant, and you'll worry less about out-leveling content you want to see or feeling like you can't move on from a zone you hate. You can also group with your friends more easily if one happens to pass you by because they don't have a life. 

The Bad

I think it breaks that sense of immersion for me when there aren't places in the world that are free to enter but dangerous to do so. Going into a level 50 zone at level 10 was horrifying. Even in EverQuest there were aspects of zones that were so immensely out-leveled for the rest of the zone that you always had to be looking around. Scaling can homogenize away a lot of that. There's also the annoyance aspect of wading through mobs that scale up to you even when you feel as though you should have progressed through them.

Blizzard is tackling some of that negative by proposing brackets. 

1-10: Starting Zones.
10-60: Old Wold Zones MINUS Cataclysm zones.
60-80: Outland & Northrend. 
80-90: Cataclysm zones and Pandaria.
90-100: Draenor.
100-110: Broken Isles.
110-120: Kul'Tiras/Zandalar.

I could get nitpicky and critique how making PvE a bracketed experience overly-gamifies the game, but I won't because this is ultimately better for a themepark experience like WoW, and honestly the leveling experience is not the game anymore and hasn't been for over a decade. Systems with options help make the experience... better, I guess?

Generally speaking, I think world scaling works for themeparks but isn't something I would ever want to entertain in a sandbox or 'open world' MMORPG (thinking EverQuest or Pantheon types here). I want that sense of world progression, I want to outgrow some areas and fear others. I want to earn the right to go to the next place. In a themepark, I just want to get on any rides I can without waiting in line. It works.

  • I think the new re-vamp is a straight up positive for World of Warcraft. The problem with the zones working the way they did before was that you ‘outleveled’ a zone quickly. This forced you to decide to get near-useless amounts of EXP to continue the story, or move on to the next zone entirely.

    Most of WoW’s zones have plenty of great lore behind them, and its a huge plus to see this changed so that more people can experience them. The challenge, whereas not as much as it use to be, greatly improves the experience by making fights matter instead of just powering through everything. It also helps players learn their rotations earlier on instead of being thrown into the madness later on in the game.

    I share your thoughts on it being implemented in other MMO genre’s as a negative, but I don’t think we have to worry about that too much.

  • Not a fan of level scaling, kills immersion for me quite a bit. You progress thru many battles, fight evil bosses, get stronger gear and skills yet the guys you fought in your early levels still living in basic huts put up a fight. I had a rusty sword then, now I have a sword with flames dancing along the blade, they should clear a path as if its their decked out leader walking past them lol. IIRC didnt mobs in EQ2 put their hands up and react to the fact you out level them quite a bit. I still have fond memories of heading back to West Commonlands in EQ just to lay down some hell on Dragoon Zytl as payback when I finally became strong enough, that feeling just gets lost in scaling.

    That being said I can somewhat understand a game wanting to do that to add some life to old zones that no one bothers with anymore. So when implemented, the bracket idea is at least better then the entire world scaling as some games have done.

  • I think it will be good for levelling alts and for new players.

    The thing I don’t like is that it will make farming for things harder on a max levelled toon.

    For example farming for old world pet drops which have a low percent chance of dropping. You need to kill lots of mobs. If they all scale to my level it will take a lot longer to kill them.

    Also currently farming for low level ore and herbs to sell will go from not worrying about nearby mobs to now having to deal with them slowing down my farming.

    Saying that I am looking forward to levelling up a horde alt and being able to do quests and see the lore without out levelling them

    • I see your point.

      The counter argument is that now such things have even greater intrinsic value.

      I believe devaluation of virtual items and currency relative to old-school/vanilla MMO’s is commonplace, which undermines the hard-earned uniqueness of in game achievements.

      In short, while it is awesome to finally get that flaming sword you have worked so hard to obtain, it is somehow not as cool when every 4th person is running around Orgrimmar with one and there are 30 of them relatively cheaply listed on the AH.

  • I understand that the scaling will work like it does in Legion. The mob’s level and power as you see on your screen scales to your level to the bracket cap, not the player scaling down. This is an important distinction because it means you can go down a bracket or 2 or 3 and not be “nerfed”. At cap you’ll still one-hit every mob up through Panda and maybe even Draenor.

    • That’s generally how I understand it as well. In Legion you were never brought down and still won’t be when you change brackets. If you leave the bracket level of Outland, you’ll progress to the next bracket of scaling. Going back, you’ll be out-leveled for it.

      Technically, zones were scaling everything homogeneously. If a level 99 and a level 96 were in the same zone fighting the same mob, that mob could not be scaled twice. It was the players being scaled in some fashion. I imagine everyone was always homogenized upward to some degree.

  • The sooner levels die as a concept the better. You can encoyrage exploration of a world via achievements. Gating skills via a points mechanic with a “levelup” bar doesnt require actual levels.

    Its never made sense to me that the wow amd post wow mmos spent so much time building content that was 90% irrelevant to any particular player at any given time.

  • I remember reading that the WoW dev’s felt the time it took to reach max lvl in Vanilla (i.e. 1-60) was the perfect amount. If it takes the same amount of time to level to 110 it makes perfect sense to restructure zones to accommodate the increased levels.

    • I read in a couple articles from MMO news sites that the amount of experience to level actually went up, but that the scaling would still make it relatively a smooth experience. Not that I’ll go try it out myself, but I wonder if it’s true that having more content “your level” helps vs. having content go green/grey. I assume so.