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WoW Wednesday: The Future of Warcraft Legacy Content on a Grand Scale

It’s February, which means that Love is in the Air is well under way in World of Warcraft. However, this year there’s a twist to the normal process of collecting Love Tokens and biffing the Crown Chemical Company, which has made me at least sit up and take serious notice. Before, you needed to be close to maximum level to be able to engage this holiday boss. That’s all changed, and now you only need an alt at level 16 in order to take advantage of the event. More significantly, all the neck pieces that have a chance to drop are rewards that scale to your current level on kill.

Most people I know will be celebrating the opportunity of multiple chances at the Big Love Rocket, but I have more important matters to consider. Level scaling was pretty much a Holy Grail for players as far back as Wrath of the Lich King, when people first began suggesting how great it would be to never have content get stale or grow old. If mobs automatically leveled and increased in power as you did, there would never be anything you couldn’t consider as ‘current.’ After a while, of course, players began to appreciate the fact you could go back and flatten low level areas with ease, especially those who’d then sell the resultant loot and make a tidy profit.

Warcraft Valentine

However, the Broken Isles rewrote the rules, and now every area at 110 is not only a challenge but often an exercise in genuine skill and avoidance for the first time in many years. It is no wonder so many casual players are keen to have flying back on their action bars as soon as possible because fighting all this stuff at max level can occasionally get tiring. That’s the only drawback of the tech, at least in my eyes, and it does push you to have to spend all your time concentrating on being the best you can. So, you go back to old zones and it doesn’t matter, until eventually comes the revelation that if everything was the same and just leveled to you, maybe everybody would be forced to play better by default.

That happened for two days at the end of January with the Call of the Scarab event where for a brief and glorious time, areas of Silithus scaled up to 110. Everybody assumed that once the holiday was done, it would all go back to normal, until someone pointed out last week that the mobs in the zone were still acting all tough and remained scaled. A Tweet from the Warcraft Devs confirmed that ‘this was intended behavior’ and for the first time outside of Legion there was an indicator that perhaps, the Old World might be about to undergo an amazing transformation. The new tech was able to integrate into open world UI outside a current expansion and suddenly a promise that was made at BlizzCon became a genuine reality.

For a very long time, leveling without buying a L100 boost has been inherently broken. It’s a combination of the Heirloom system making certain players ridiculously overpowered, the quest/level experience not keeping up with changes elsewhere, and the journey from Vanilla to Legion simply not built to withstand long-term scrutiny. All those globs of end game content are great when they’re relevant, but they then become pointless when once you level past them. What if you could spend all your time in Skettis in Outland, or at the Argent Tournament in Northrend, and complete all the quests there as you level without feeling that you’re missing out on content elsewhere?

How it would work isn’t immediately obvious, but it would not take a genius to grasp that you’d need to hit level 58 to ‘unlock’ all the Burning Crusade content. After that, Northrend would be 68, Cataclysm 78, Pandaria 88 with Draenor at 98. Currently, that’s the level when you’re allowed to move forward in ‘normal’ mode, except in this case you’d be able to go backwards if you wished or stayin one zone to level up past your initial cap. Say, for the sake of argument, I decided to stay and complete all the quest content in Outland past 68, which could conceivably take me to 73 or 74 when complete.

Then, you’d go to Northrend at that level but could only unlock the ‘upscale’ in Wrath when you got to 78. This would mean that if you were 77, you’d be restricted from jumping forward to get boosts or ‘cheat’ your way up faster, making the Expansion boundaries restrict play style far more than they do now. For many people that might seem like an issue, but I’d argue that if you’re going to do leveling like this, there need to be some rules.

There are also those who will complain that this will remove a lot of the overpowered nature of gameplay from the grind, but if the Vanilla/Legacy server débâcle has taught us anything it should be that sometimes you need more restrictions, and not less, to allow the true nature of the experience to show through. Yes, you could set the scaled leveling as a toggle but if you’re even thinking about turning this off to begin with then you’re not getting the point.

It could be a major concession to those who want to play a version of ‘original’ content from any of the various Expansions. It would allow you to create, for instance, an Outland-only toon that remains in the zone locked to L70 and never leaves. If an XP freeze and a consistent ‘end game’ experience is granted in the same way one can can do with twinking PvP characters, then you could have whole communities that choose only to play as Northrend-based entities or who never choose to fly away from Pandaria.

In effect, it would grant those who’d hoped that Elysium was their savior a copy of the game where the rules are Blizzard’s to dictate but everything else is at the whim of the player base. It would mean Legacy Raiding would become unnecessary to organize, and you could just level an alt to 70 and do it for real. That would then allow whole new communities to spring up who never did anything other than World PvP in Cataclysm Zones, or made Herald of the Titans in Ulduar a reinvention of it’s original intent. For everybody else, there’s the current content and new stuff, and after a while, when you got bored of the ‘old’ content, you’d be able to buy a partial boost or turn off the XP freeze. It would give everybody what they wanted, and no-one would ever complain ever again.

Of course, the reality is that if it were this simple, you’d have imagined that the task would have been completed a long time ago. However, if everything in all the Expansions does go to level scaling like this, the possibilities to allow players not simply freedom of choice but their own personalized path will depend an awful lot on the level of rewards available on their journey.

Heirlooms do the job in part, but if you’re going to recreate the experience of Wrath, with even some measure of original authenticity, all those Tier set bonuses will need to be reactivated, and the loot that drops at max level will need to be looked at with a fair degree of care. Crafting too would need to be addressed to ensure that people couldn’t sneak other items back down the chain from later Expansions. Could it be done? Well, one would hope that if it were a reality, this would go on the table.

The practicalities of the scaling tech in Legion have pretty much redefined gameplay for this Expansion, and now we have the means for anyone leveling to take part in any of the Holiday events at a far lower entry level. The fact that level 16 has been set as the entry point in Shadowfang Keep says to me that somebody, somewhere understands that there’s a sanctity to process that is worth keeping intact. Once we get to the Frost Lord in Midsummer, I’d hope that’s a Slave Pens entry level for the exact same reason. If that ends up being the case, then maybe those who have campaigned long and hard for Legacy gameplay from Blizzard may finally get their wish.

For everybody else, scaling tech is redefining the landscape. Going forward, with judicious use of existing landmarks and areas for level 110 players to explore for the first time, it could be absolutely the perfect opportunity to start the process of leaving the World well alone but allowing players to make their own decisions as to how they play and work within it. After all, if the whole game gets an overhaul for the next Expansion but nothing actually changes, the most damning criticism of Cataclysm will be finally put to rest. Perhaps, after that we can use instance tech to progress plot for certain players, whilst others can make a conscious decision to stay in a version of the past of their own definition.

With this new technology front and center, anything is possible.

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