Monday, October 24, 2005
Next weekend is BlizzCon, where Blizzard is expected to reveal more information about the World of Warcraft expansion set for 2006. Rumors are flying, fueled by the widely distributed cover of an italian game magazine which "leaked" (or just plain invented) that the expansion set would increase the level cap of WoW from 60 to 70. What if that was true?
Assuming that levels 61-70 are gained pretty much like levels 1-60, a raised cap would be good news for the casual players. It would simply make the game longer, with more zones, more quests, and simply more *game* to level up in. Add to that the other rumors about one new race for each side, presumably with new low-level zones as well, and life is good. A bit silly that according to the rumor the Horde gets sexy blood-elves as new race, and the Alliance gets pandaren, a kind of cute panda-colored Ewoks, but the purpose of that would be to make the Horde relatively more attractive and get the two sides more balanced. Obviously doesn't work on everybody, *I* would rather play the panda, but there is a wide-spread theory that sexyness plays a big role in the Horde/Alliance imbalance, and I couldn't blame Blizzard for trying.
For the more hardcore players, level 70 would presumably have new raid dungeons as well, so they'd just make the 10 levels in record time and start tackling new raid content.
But a raised level cap also would have downsides. Most importantly you basically lose all motivation to continue playing your level 60 from now to the release date of the expansion. The way the game works now, you level from 1 to 60 at a pretty steady rate, and then you get stuck at 60. Your only way to advance further before the cap is raised is improving your equipment, which is relatively slow. To get the best level 60 equipment, an immense effort is required, organizing raid groups of up to 40 players for a tiny chance of finding something you need. Raise the level cap, and the reward for all that effort will become pretty much meaningless. The epic level 60 equipment from Molten Core will be considered as junk at level 70. Whether you did Molten Core fifty times or never will not make much of a difference on the power of your character at level 70. Oh, and if you continued questing at level 60, you will have "lost" all the experience rewards from those quests, and will wish you had waited until the cap was raised.
I really wonder what will happen to the current raid dungeons if the level cap is raised. They are designed for large groups of level 60 players. And just like today you would be hard pressed to find 40 level 50 players on any server, after the cap is raised there soon won't be many level 60s around. If players are level 70, they can go to places like Molten Core with much smaller groups, or with groups which are a lot less well organized. The previous pinnacles of achievement will become rather common.
Blizzard might need to adjust some things if the level cap is raised. Monsters that are currently nominally level 61, but hit much harder, could be changed to display their "real" level. The current levels are often set just for things like skinning, where you need 5 times the level of the mob as skill to skin it, and getting beyond 300 is rather difficult. Another thing which might need to be reworked are the talent trees. With another 10 talent points the three different branches of each tree would have to grow, because otherwise everybody could more or less cover two of the three branches, which would be rather boring.
If Blizzard really announces next weekend that next year the level cap will be raised, your best strategy would be stopping to play your level 60 character, and either cancel your account until then, or level up some alternative characters for more choices. I am sure that there will be lots of re-subscriptions because of the expansion set, but right now I wonder if the announcement of a raised level cap wouldn't actually result in many account cancellations. And with Blizzards famously being rather slow to get things out, the subscription numbers might actually dip for quite a while before going up again. You can hear anything from May to December 2006 as rumored release date for the expansion, with the second half of the year being more likely.