There’s a growing trend for themeparks to avoid the idea of character levels. Ultima Online has this same mechanic and it was one of the first out of the gate. EQ came along and took the D&D model of levels and that seems to have somehow become the themepark standard. There’s a bit of a shift now though. TSW has no direct levels tied to the character, simply levels tied to skill useage. GW2 uses levels but doesn’t gate content behind it, it simply levels the content around you (a-la Oblivion I guess).
TOR certainly has a disconnect between leveling and story. The “openess” of previous BioWare games (minus DA2, ugh) was apparently cut on the floor in order to allow players to stay together. Other than the personal stories, which account for maybe 10% of all content, there was nothing keeping you on a planet past the artificial level barrier. RIFT has the same mechanic for moving forward but you can easily move down levels with the mentoring ability.
WoW is the odd one out. Keen covers some points and there are some good counterpoints. You can argue that content and levels are two separate items. I do understand the gating mechanic of levels in a game with 100 buttons. If I gave you all of them to start, you’d have no idea how to play. If I gave you everything to start, then you’d burn out on raids/dungeons. The actual content is pretty decent but how do you pace content reward? There are over 10,000 quests in the game. That’s a ridiculous number.
If themeparks were to remove levels, you’d still need some gating mechanism to extend playtime and get people used to systems. If I bought a level 90 Druid it would take me a couple hours to gear them up to heroic dungeon levels. If I played a Druid from 1-90, it would take me a few weeks to get to the same place (if not more).
That being said, how in the world Blizzard thinks than John Smith is going to pick up WoW today and go through 90 levels to play with their friends is ridiculous. I’m leveling a monk in full heirloom gear (45% exp boost), with 20% from the guild bonus and with 50% from the daily monk quest. I’ve been leveling for 5 days now, having 7 years of experience in the game too, and I’m still not even finished the LK content. I still need to do Cataclysm and then MoP. Once I’m there, the content from 1-89 is practically irrelevant.
Real themeparks are about all the rides. Sure, there are rides where you have to be “this tall” to get on, but I don’t know of any that say “you’re too tall”. Rift makes previous content relevant through artifacts, quests, achievements, pets and mentoring. WoW makes previous content relevant through achievements (x quests complete) and pet battles. WoW’s dungeons and raids previous to an expansion pack (say Stonecore) are 100% empty.
It would certainly be fun to have access to all dungeons at max level and at an optional scaleable level.