Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Walkin' it back

When I heard about the changes coming to WOW with the new Legion expansion I was hesitant about one thing in particlar:  Zone scaling.  The newer zones change based on your level so that they keep pace with you as you level up and as such you can do them in any order you like.  Also they scale with each player's level independently so even if there is a big disparity in levels between two players they can play together easily.  It turns out I was wrong in my initial impressions - these changes are great.

I was worried that this would lead to things feeling wrong somehow - monsters immediately scaling up in power when you level seems like it should erase any sense of progress and impede immersion.  I think those effects exist to some extent, but they are dwarfed by the benefits of this change.  While it is nice to feel monsters getting easier, that makes combat feel trivial and silly.  It is good at points to really get a sense of character progression but I think there is an optimal difficulty while levelling that you lose when monsters fall behind.

Plus it is just so great to be able to play with other people who aren't at your level!

Wendy and I played together despite there being a five level difference and it was totally smooth and seamless.  Normally we can't play together at all because I always end up rushing ahead of her in progression so this change was most welcome.

That isn't all though.  This change means that the world continues to be relevant after levelling.  Legion does a fantastic job integrating the zones you level in with the endgame content and that is wonderful.  Endgame in WOW has in the past mostly been about instances for a long time and I really love the new change in philosophy.  Having tons of quests scattered throughout the world that constantly change and refresh (and those quests being very relevant) anchors the endgame in the world that you explored while levelling up.

In short, while there is something lost by having zones scale, the gains are so much greater.

You can't just make every zone scale from 1-110 though.  Much of the content and quest lore makes no sense under that system.  You basically have two choices here.  First is to make all vanilla zones scale from 1-110 so any characters can play together, but keep the higher level stuff that came with expansions gated behind the levels that they have currently.  Under this system Elwynn Forest, a starter zone, would be 1-110 but Northrend, the second expansion, would be available for 68-110 characters.

That system makes playing together easy for basically any characters, but it does mean that high level people don't have trivial zones they can ignore.  Maybe that is a good thing though.

The other option is a small amount of scaling that makes questing and grouping easier in general but lets high level characters have their absurd power level.  Under this system you would make Elwynn Forest scale from 1-30, for example, and Northrend would scale from 68-80.  You still get to outlevel zones but you won't outlevel them while playing through them, and you can play with anyone close to your level.

It is hard to say exactly which would produce the best overall experience but I suspect the first would.  I didn't like the scaling in theory but I love it in practice.  I would be all for trying this new system in a big way and seeing if it made the world a better place to be.

And by world I mean the world of warcraft.  Which, right now, is better than ever.

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