Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leveling in WoW V4

Since I plan to start all over in Cataclysm, I am very interested in the leveling experience. That is why I started an undead mage yesterday and got him to level 10.

In general, the game has been dumbed down even more. Yeah, yeah! It obviously, was possible. My spell tooltips do not tell me how much damage they do, but now tell me that 'this is an instant, that's why I should use it when moving'. Apparently Blizzard is convinced that

1) A large number of new players are 10 or younger.
2) These players can read, but not think.
3) These player do not feel good when figuring easy(!) things out on their own.
4) These players are a welcome addition to the WoW endgame.
5) The players won't be confused, by the fact that the first 10 levels are so incredibly easy now that it really does not matter at all what button you press when.

I needed to make this rant. Sorry.

The second part of this post is about the removal of skill ranks.
In old WoW you would gain new skill ranks when you leveled. Your fireball rank 2 would make (much) more damage than your fireball rank 1. Now, for some time already your fireball rank 1 actually already scaled with your level. But there were still ranks that improved it.

In V4 you will never again get a new rank. Your skills just scale on-the-fly. Is this good? I do not think so.

The reason for ranks was to make players feel like their character progressed, became more powerful. Unfortunately allowing players to become more powerful also has downsides:
- Problems leveling with friends of different level
- Balance issues
- 6 digit numbers are hard to read
- Immersion in the game world

That is why you do not become 10x as powerful with every level - even though there are certainly people at Blizzard HQ who pointed out that players like to feel more powerful, the more the better.

Since power progression has downsides, it is important to make perfect use of every single increase in character power. The player needs to know that his character has just become more powerful! This, however, is exactly the opposite of what is done. Basically your character becomes more powerful, but Blizzard tries to hide it from you.

In addition, you are so busy with looking/thinking at/about the next GCD now, that there is little time to look at the environment, let alone the damage numbers of your fireballs.

So the feeling of becoming more powerful is sabotaged. That is bad game design.


  1. I don't know how many times my DPS/healing suddenly worsened, and waaaaay to much freaking tinkering around later I found that somehow my skill "ranks" had demoted themselves.

    I know it happened to me last Spring which was when I got my priest to 80. Maybe bad addons or my penchant for Macs were to blame. But really, even if they did "fix" that, having to retrain new "ranks" of skills was ludicrous.

    Good riddance to it.

  2. I, too, think that skill ranks are not optimal. However, 'stealth-leveling' is stupid. As a developer you want to make sure that players feel like becoming more powerful as much as possible.

  3. I like the new beginner tooltips. You have to remember that not everyone who starts WoW is an MMO veteran or even a gamer at all. I was amused when I was looking at whether Claw was still useless to feral druids and Mangle's tooltip did in fact tell me outright that it should replace Claw on my action bar. Besides, these new tooltips are completely optional, you can always turn them off.

    And I say good riddance to spell ranks as well; I completely agree with Bristal about that one. They never made me feel more powerful, they were always just crap to wade through while trying to find the truly new abilities that I had learned at any given level.

  4. Shintar,

    I can probably accept the newbie tooltips - especially after I found out how to disable them. To be honest: If I were a new player I'd rather like find out how much damage my fireball does than to read that I should attack enemies with it that are 'far way'. But perhaps other new players are different.

    About the ranks:
    I never was a fan of the old system. But the new system is some kind of stealth power gain. That is not something you want to do as developer. In an MMO you want to rub it into peoples' face that they have just become more powerful.

  5. In an MMO you want to rub it into peoples' face that they have just become more powerful.

    I think they are doing just that though. You get a big flashing message every time you level and gain a talent point now - I used to overlook the old chat messages in the heat of battle sometimes, but not anymore. They also dangle your new abilities in front of you tantalisingly, telling you when you'll get a new talent point, showing future abilities in your spellbook, only greyed out... I've found that I'm really looking forward to getting new spells on my alts now.

    Spell ranks were a comparatively "fake" way of making you think that you got more powerful, because you didn't really gain anything new, just got to pay the trainer for your spells to barely keep up with the rest of your character's advancement.

  6. What Shintar said. A rank n fireball that knocks 40% health off a level appropriate mob is no more powerful than a rank n+1 fireball that knocks 40% health off a level appropriate mob.

    Though to be fair, we are talking after all about the impression/sense/appearance of gaining power, and not actually gaining power.

    More abilities, and abilities that gradually have more effects as you level .. that would be interesting.

    Consider the fireball: at the basic level it is as it is, then a few levels later it also results in a DoT burning effect (Fire! Fire! I'm on fire!), and at higher levels it has an AoE splash effect, then later still it does a knockdown (kaboom!), and ultimately it even sets the ground on fire for 5 seconds after (an area AoE, in addition to the strike AoE, and the DoT, and the knockdown).

    At max rank, the fireball spell would be awesome.

    It would also necessitate you adjust your play style as you level. Not simply target slightly tougher mobs with a slightly harder hitting exact-same animation.