Story disconnect, levelling and power

You are always the hero in your story.

Well not always but for the sake of Warcraft let’s roll with that old cliche. Some quests are obviously more momentous than others but I was just in the Troll baby pool, and I helped Vol’jin kill the Sea Witch that had driven the Darkspear from their home in the past, helped him avenge the death of his father – I was level 5!

Obviously there are quests that ask for ten boar flanks for a pot of stew, and lots that aren’t to do with the world ending, or major lore figures. However, I think most zones try and lead up to some climatic moment in which you can feel like a hero. It could be argued that each expansion asks for more and more of the heroes, that they take on bigger and bigger challenges. But at the same time there is always the smaller quests too, and deep down it’s all story – there is a narrative structure to it. I think it would be reasonable to say that blizz has got better at storytelling over the years. Those random small quests now feel a lot more important, they are framed better, the story is more cohesive and it’s deeper. Although I guess my point is that they still exist. There are big hero moments at every level, and grunt work at every level.

Ever since the Cataclysm there has been a levelling problem because new characters start on the Cata timeline, they then go back in time (but aren’t informed of this) to do the campaign against the Legion in Outland, and again in Northrend against the Lich King. For new players rolling a troll how confusing would that be? There’s a fairly lengthy in-game steam television thing which shows Vol’jin’s memory of facing off against Garrosh, and then talking to Thrall. In that obviously it’s clear that Garrosh is the Warchief, and that he was a hero in Northrend. However, when questing in Northrend none of that has happened yet. Plus some things that were referenced like the Wrathgate have been removed so players never get to see them. Even more confusingly Orgrimmar has been updated so quests reference that Garrosh is Warchief but the city shows that it’s Sylvanas.

I’m not a fan of content being removed, never have been and I was pretty vocal about it back in the day. I wished very much that they would add an option, perhaps in the Caverns of Time, for players to visit classic Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor – after all that is the pre-Cata story. Yes, like I said blizz has got a hell of a lot better over the years at telling stories and designing quests. The difference is massive between Outland and BfA, and it would be even worse comparing Classic – but still story, timeline, these are the keywords.

So players go Cata —> back in time to Outland —> progress to Northrend —> return to Cata —> then onwards chronologically except that like I said big things like Warchief or the Alliance King, are the same as present day. How confusing for new players to see King Anduin Wrynn on the throne, and then get the Mists quests from King Varian Wrynn to rescue his son, the Prince Anduin.

Now I like going back and rofl-stomping old content to farm for stuff, whether it’s pets, mounts, achievements – whatever. So I really don’t want to lose the ability to solo but at the same time I really do feel like the levels have become a hindrance. They used to be the vehicle which allowed you to well ‘level up’ and get more power, which made sense because you gained experience while adventuring, becoming more seasoned. The timeline inconsistencies though are getting worse and I’m reminded of the post I made recently about the potential level-squish. In that I proposed they basically do away with levelling altogether by boosting everyone to 110 (and 120 next expansion etc.). I said that blizz would never do it because they sell those boosts for damn near £50 each!!!! (I really am horrified at that).

I think I didn’t go far enough though because I was still saying people had to level in the current expansion – but why? Separate power, levelling and story altogether. Your character is created, it goes through a scenario (like the boosted characters already have) to teach the player about the class. Then zone in and the starting quests offer options, and I mean a talking quest, or a cinematic, which explains about all the content that’s available. You know how there’s a voiceover and cinematic when you create a brain new level 1 which explains things for the race? I’m thinking something like that but for the whole of Azeroth and the timeline thing.

It would go something like “Welcome hero. Our past contained many challenges and with thanks to the bronze dragonflight you can experience many of the war campaigns for yourself. Few memories of the time before the Dark Portal opened for the second time remain (flashes of Molten Core etc.) so the first war campaign available is the expedition to Outland. This ended in the year (whatever it was) and our soldiers returned home, only for the scourge to attack. We took the fight to them, in the frozen north, and you can experience the campaign against the Lich King for yourself. What happened next was Deathwing and the Cataclysm which changed the face of Azeroth, and is why very few memories of before remain. This war campaign stretches across the entirety of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, as the denziens of Azeroth cry out for assistance in the wake of all the devastating changes the Cataclysm caused. The two factions on Azeroth, the Alliance and the Horde have cooperated to end major threats but at the conclusion of the Cataclysm campaign, that temporary seemed under threat. You can experience the Pandarian campaign and learn of the terrible fate that befell the Horde Warchief, and how that set into motion inexorably everything that happened next. If you wish to see for yourself, the next war campaign will take you to an alternate universe, to Draenor, but that is not the end. Threats will follow you home, as the Legion finally launches a full-scale assault on Azeroth, as the war campaign of the Broken Isles takes place. Hero you don’t have to experience the past, the war rages on in the present (they’d have to change this bit every expansion), as all-out war has broken out between the Alliance and Horde, and they search for new allies in Kul Tiras and Zandalar. The choice of what you do and when is yours hero. Know this, if you wish to experience the war campaign fully (I’m talking about scaling), you must return here to speak to the bronze dragonflight, otherwise you will out-power everything.”

I know that’s very rough and bad but I hope you can see my point. Through the magic of scaling people can experience the content as they would if they levelled through it. However if people want to go back and rofl-stomp it because they have already done those campaigns and they just want something specific, then that’s an option as well.

Blizz should also provide an in-game lore library, or some kind of visual picture of the timeline, so new players can get an overview, like Thrall was the Warchief up until the Cataclysm when he gave it to Garrosh, who was overthrown by Vol’jin, who led the Horde through the alternate Draenor but was sadly killed by the Legion’s opening attack. Vol’jin named Sylvanas Warchief then and that’s where we are now. The same with Alliance too, like Varian Wrynn was missing and Bolvar Fordragon ran stuff as Prince Anduin was a boy, then Varian returned and led the Alliance through Outland, up until his death in the Legion’s opening attack, at which point his son was old enough to become King. Then obviously there are the leaders of the various factions like Caine Bloodhoof was killed by Garrosh before the Cataclysm and Baine took over, or Magni used to lead the Dwarves before he became the Speaker and the Council of Three Hammers took over. I mean any remnants of Classic, or indeed even during Cata, it was clear the Dark Irons are pretty disliked (they used to be the enemy) but in BfA they fully become part of the Alliance.

So I don’t know. I wish that blizz had just completely rolled classic back into live, to let players experience everything, like I’ve said above through seeing the timeline and choosing what story they want to play through. You know like logic trees? I think that’s what they are called, where there’s a box and then lines come from it to go to other boxes, and it’s like an unfolding option list. Well I wish blizz would create something like that for the timeline, and include all dungeons and raids and class quests, hell even the heritage armor quests – everything is story! Then as I said let people choose what to do, and let them cross it off – like an extension of the quest achievement panel. Sort of an account wide legacy system I suppose, I mean swtor actually has that and a lore panel – blizz should steal that!

This would greatly simplify things for new players because they could just jump into the current story with their friends. Blizz could still ensure that people did the quests, or the story chapters for the new zones, by making them a requirement to unlock endgame content. This should be account-wide of course so once a player has done it on one character, they aren’t required to revisit the story (unless they wish!). It would also help out old players because they wouldn’t have to redo content all the time (unless they wanted!) which would reduce the barrier to entry for people re-rolling. With the scaling tech to revisit old story, it might make people more likely to do it as to be honest knocking out loremaster when everything is grey is a bit boring tbh. Yes it’s easy but it’s not very satisfying. Also if they made everything scale, they could create new world quests which send players everywhere – an extension of timewalking perhaps, as Chromie says that I don’t know the Scryers in Shattrath have a problem or something. I think I’ve said this before that blizz is sitting on a mountain of content and they could leverage it better. Right now, it’s a confusing mess for new players (and intimidating which is why they are talking about a level squish, as 120+ levels to join friends is a lot). It’s also groan-worthy for older players, so basically nobody is happy that they are forced through all the old content. I’m talking about introducing choice.

Would people do the older content if they had a choice? I think they would, especially with the scaling tech. If they don’t, then to be honest they either wouldn’t have anyway, or they would have bitched about it and unhappy players eventually quit. With all the allied races and the levelling (because of the no-boost restriction to get heritage armour) I do think blizz is risking burning people out. It’s one thing to offer cool cosmetic choices, which have already been gated through achievement/reputation requirements, and then the levelling on top is just too much.

So to summarise replace levels with achievements, with getting a whoosh everytime something is checked off/added to the lore library. Levels are gone, there’s no worry about making levels meaningful. Yeah it removes the experience/seasoning of an adventurer but like I said huge stuff happens at low levels – how are you more of a hero later on? Make zone scaling optional, expand timewalking, let people choose whether the old story scales (as if they were at the right level) or if they want to rofl-stomp it. Lay out the timeline clearly, so the first campaign given classic’s removal is Outland, then Northrend, then the entirety of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor etc. etc. but make it clear the player is in present day in capital cities (to explain the leader changes). I know players can fly out of present-day Orgrimmar into Cata zones, but just explain it and give people the level toggling option, like they have Ziodormi who can show old versions of zones. So rofl-stomp, or wanting to play it like it was real.

Story trumps levels basically, and blizz should roll with that. Yes it’s an evolving game but they have the capability to scale, and an in-game explanation re: timewalking/bronze dragonflight to let people do the old stuff. It could be awesome if they did this, but they never will because they would lose the ability to sell most of their services. If you can just reroll max level, then unless there’s stuff in the bank you want to keep, you’d never need to pay for a customisation (race change etc.), and boosts would be rendered irrelevant. There would be other impacts too like heirlooms would cease to be needed, losing that goldsink. However losing the ability to flog over-priced services (seriously £50 for a boost!) is why blizz won’t go this route, however much I wish they would.