WoW has already undergone enough squishing that I sort of expect it in every other expansion. I’ve talked at length on the insane power curve problems that Blizz has self-inflicted, and this continues in SL. The squish does nothing to fix that problem, it just makes sure that their servers don’t blow up dividing by zero.
The Early Game
Squishing levels though, that’s different. After BFA’s attrocious power “wave” approach to leveling and gearing (where everyone got weaker, then stronger, then weaker, and again…), SL had a goal of resetting the leveling power curve. Levels themselves were meaningless, aside than an artificial gate on content. With the squish to 50, it makes the dings a tad more meaningful. After having gone through it, it could have had even another 20 levels shaved and no one would really have noticed. There were really only a dozen times where I stopped and re-ordered my play style – some basic rotational skills and then the 6 talents.
Speed-wise it was admittedly a lot faster than prior. There’s still a “hell level” section in the 30s (which was the 70s prior) where it feels like molasses, but the overall process is MUCH more enjoyable. The fun part here is that the entire leveling experience can be contained to a single expansion. War mode is a nice bonus, but as always, you need to turn it off for the real content (50-60).
I find it somewhat hilarious that WoD is the defacto leveling zone. The bonus objectives are reasonable (more so than SL), the double hearthstone makes a big difference, the treasures are a big boost, and most of the zones are decent while on the ground. Having WoD flying is a huge boost to time, and the garrison is almost entirely ignored. I still don’t have a positive memory of the WoD leveling experience, story-wise. Mechanically though, it is hard to argue the efficiencies. If Legion didn’t have class halls, it would be the fastest by far. Pandaria is my next favourite way to go, but you miss out on a lot of “bonus xp” stuff.
So the 1-50 stuff goes by pretty fast. The Azeroth Auto-pilot speeds it up further (I usually put that on for the 2nd alt and beyond). My last attempt was a Druid, which is like turbo mode for leveling. Herbalism/Mining is still a wild XP boost while leveling. And the way that the game dumps tons of gold into the bag isn’t hurtful (WoD is extremely generous). I had no issues getting 30 slot bags and all flying unlocked at 50… with a lot left over.
Chromie Time deserves a thought. This makes it so that the entire game scales to 1-50. If you don’t do this, then you’re going to max out a zone’s level. With no in-game explanation. This option is only available if you already have a level 50 character… so the whole refer-a-friend thing doesn’t work here. Why does this even exist as a choice and not be the default?
Overall, a significant improvement. But…
The class trial does a better job of getting you ready to play the game than anything 1-50. The content from 1-50 (aside from pet battles) is completely irrelevant, and in no way resembles the gameplay in SL, at or before 60. The amount of opportunities available here to ease new players into whatever it is Blizz has in store for them is absent. I know, I know, who hasn’t played WoW that would be interested at all? Enough for it to be worth it. Exile’s Reach is a good attempt, but it should end with the player ready for that expansion’s content. And for the love of all that’s covered with cheese, why oh why can’t Blizz find a way to make the proving grounds part of the leveling experience?
I did both the campaign and the threads of fate. Or rather, the tutorial and then expert mode. The world design is still something to celebrate, and there are plenty of times where I just stopped to appreciate it all. The characters, the arcs, the arts… just really well done. The flow of the story is decent too, so much that you don’t really notice the travel time between the points. I’m sure everyone comes out with a favourite by the end, and the trial of the covenant abilities is solid. Blizz’ dependency on every fantasy trope in the book generally works, especially considering that they have access to every single Warcraft character they’ve killed (where’s Arthas?), making for some interesting interactions. It also allows access to every other world in the Warcraft universe… By the time you’re done the campaign you have a good idea of what’s going on, what skills you’d like, and which team you’d like to pledge for. In terms of “consistent” story, this is really top notch.
The threads of fate opens up after your first campaign, allowing you to level as you want. Each zone has a bar that fills up based on your activities, then you move to the other zones. The advantage here is that each zone gives you 1 renown level, the only catchup mechanic in game currently. The disadvantage is that you need to find the content to complete. Quests are great, as are rares (if they are up), yet you need to travel A LOT to find them. Bonus objectives are so very, very painful to complete, and with pitiful rewards. Harvest 20 of anything and you’ll get more experience. Travel itself is also unpleasant, since the quests are not typically chained. It is neither faster, nor more rewarding than the campaign. The real benefit is if you want to chain run dungeons and get renown. Well, not completely true. There are some hidden gem quests that you will really only see in this mode. A shame really.
I will point out that people will truly appreciate zone design if they take the threads of fate path. Revendreth has a dense and vertical design, almost claustrophobic. Andrenweald has a branch/leaf design (you’re in a hub, then in a field, then in a hub). Bastion is large open plains. And Maldraxxus… well, it’s there alright.
Another post will go into the experience from 60 and beyond. What I will say is that when you do hit 60, the deluge of new systems-with-no-explanation comes at you fierce. This is the expansion with the least amount of training wheels I’ve yet to see. It gives you all of this, no explanation of why or even if it’s important.
This is WoW at it’s most streamlined. It has never been faster to level. Nearly every ding has some meaning (big or small). There are no bells and whistles, systems just come at you full speed. The 1-50 portion highlights how meaningless it actually is. The 50-60 campaign/thread of fate is a great choice for leveling, with two truly distinct paths. It’s arguably a better single player RPG than most AAA games out there. Hats off to the art/world design teams.