Monday, October 20, 2008
The Shattering of Azeroth
My World of Warcraft mage went to UBRS last night, with a pickup group, to get the Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy! achievement. The pickup group consisted of my mage, who is a blood elf and thus was created post Burning Crusade, one guy who had the UBRS key, and three people who had never ever even been to UBRS, having started playing after TBC came out, and thus missed the period where people were still visiting level 60 dungeons. I had to show them where the door was, and tell them that we needed to extinguish the runes in the first room, and click on the altar in the second room to advance. Killing the 50 rookery whelps in under 15 seconds then was easy, because you just need a level 70 warrior to pick them all up, they don't really hurt him, and then AoE. It was obvious why nobody is going to UBRS any more: Who wants a trivial challenge that rewards you with useless loot drops? Large parts of Azeroth are effectively dead already, and Wrath of the Lich King will further reduce the small number of alts still using that content, because many alts will start as level 55 now.
So on the one side we have old content that isn't used any more. And on the other side we have Blizzard not achieving their promised one expansion per year rhythm, because creating new content takes so much time. So I propose to solve both problems, and do something that every ecologist loves: Recycling.
In practice this would me a new expansion, called something like "The Shattering of Azeroth", to come out in a year, in time for the holiday sales 2009. Besides the expected introduction of new hero classes, and raising the level cap to 90, the expansion would change the starting level of World of Warcraft to 55. So not only new hero classes, but newly created characters of any class would start at level 55. Any existing characters of level lower than 55 would see their level increased to 55.
This would liberate huge parts of the world, all the zones previously used to get from level 1 to 55. So the expansion would tell the story of a terribly cataclysm that transformed these zones. Instead of making a new continent for levels 80 to 90, old Azeroth would be transformed into zones from level 55 to 90. All the old mobs, and quests, and quest hub villages, would disappear, but the basic geography would remain, maybe with some modifications to zone connections. So now all these old zones and dungeons could be populated with new quest hubs, new quests, new mobs, spanning all the range from level 55 to 90.
I think veterans would enjoy revisiting old dungeons with new mobs and bosses. And for new players they wouldn't be any different from a completely new dungeon. For the devs it would take only half the time to repopulate the old dungeons and zones with new mobs and quests than it would take to create a new continent from scratch. And we would elegantly get rid of the depressing sight of deserted zones.
Of course clever people will realize that a game having only levels 55 to 90 isn't any different from a game having only level 1 to 34. But it is exactly this shortening of the level span that would be the big advantage of "The Shattering of Azeroth": The less levels there are in a game, the likelier it is to find somebody of the same level to play with. Instead of doing a rush job on new players to get them ever faster to the level where the rest of the players hang out, they would start at the same level as veterans doing hero classes. And while in WotLK 5 Death Knights make a lousy group, in the new expansion there could be functioning level 55 groups between hero classes and regular classes, because they all start at the same level.
The Shattering of Azeroth would remove a lot of content from World of Warcraft. But would that really be such a big loss? Isn't it better to reuse a zone like Westfall and the Deadmines instead of leaving it as a near-empty playground for a few solo players? Getting "boosted" through some old dungeon is a much less rich experience than going through that dungeon with players of your level. And of the quests that would be removed, only very few were memorable anyway. Who would miss some "kill 10 foozles" quest, as long as there is a new quest instead for killing the new mobs of now higher level in that zone?
So I think recycling the old world of Azeroth would be a great opportunity for the next World of Warcraft expansion. Because the old way of adding 10 more levels with a new continent at the end has its limits. It is better to recycle old content than to let it die a slow death of becoming insignificant.