Tuesday 22nd October 2013
As suggested by a recent leak, the next World of Warcraft expansion may introduce level scaling, similar to how Guild Wars 2 does it. The basic idea is that when you enter a zone or instance, your level and gear are scaled down to the maximum for that place, making much more challenging than it’d otherwise be.
There are a few positives to scaling, based on experience with the system in GW2.
First off, it makes old content ‘relevant’ – raids, in particular, become much more interesting when they’re more or less the same difficulty as current content; effectively, scaling makes all instances ‘current’, at least in terms of difficulty.
A possible wrinkle here is loot: does it scale up to your character’s level, or does a level 90 character still receive, for example, level 60 gear from Molten Core? Certainly there are many questions here, complicated further by the issue of the forthcoming ‘stat squish’. In GW2, mobs have a chance to drop green- or blue-quality armour roughly level-appropriate for your charater, but that game also has personal loot for everything (like how LFR/Flex looting works in WoW), so it’s not directly comparable. That said, many of the mechanisms for scaling could perhaps be implemented in WoW in spirit if not literally.
If loot remains the same level as it always has been, this could mean old content not being terribly popular, since ‘gear progression’ is so fundamental to WoW; without the chance of something with bigger numbers dropping, many people simply won’t bother with old content.
A second scaling plus point is that helping out a low-level character becomes more of a team effort, rather than one character doing all the work while the other tags along collecting loot. Sure it’s fun for a while, but mindlessly ploughing through mobs for no personal gain gets a little dull.
Of course, it’s nice to call in some high-level help for a difficult quest, or to run you through a dungeon so you can do the quests without being hassled by folks in random LFGs, but then again there really aren’t many group quests in the game any more.
(Come to think of it, level scaling could have implications for the issue of group quests…)
Naturally there are downsides too, foremost being transmog: soloing old content for gear with a certain look is a popular activity these days, but scaling characters down would have major implications for acquiring old gear. Having to get a whole raid team together just to get a nice-looking hat is clearly more of a logistics challenge than just running off on your own to do it.
Still, look at GW2 (again): the endgame is pretty much flat in terms of gear level. Once you have the equivalent of epic armour and weapons, you’re basically set for stats, so one of the only reasons to run dungeons is for gear that you like the look of. Of course, GW2 has had a flat endgame from the start, and players knew what to expect going in, so it’s never really been much of an issue; I don’t believe the same could be said for WoW and its players.
One more downside is that farming low-level materials will be somewhat more inconvenient. If you just decided to pick up mining on your max-level character, or (like me) have levelled so quickly that your professions have been left behind, going back to pick away at iron nodes will be a little trickier when you can no longer just ignore any hostile mobs in the area. You still have the advantage of having a full complement of skills, though, including a flying mount, so it’s not quite the same as having a level-appropriate character (more on this in a bit).
Finally, it’s actually kinda fun to solo old content, and in some cases is an interesting challenge in its own right, especially when trying to work around mechanics that are designed with multiple people in mind (Flame Leviathan in Ulduar, for example).
Balancing out the fact that you’ve been downlevelled is the fact that you still have all the abilities of a higher level character. Furthermore, I’d expect the various gear quality levels would scale differently, so for example a level 40 character in Uncommon quality (green) armour would have consiberably lower stats than a scaled-down level 90 in x.4-patch epics. It’d be a tricky balance to get right, adjusting the scaling so the difficulty is just so.
That balance will be key to the success of any scaling system Blizzard might introduce, and I expect Challenge Modes were the first step in trying out the technology, getting a feel for how the numbers interact.
I do agree with Big Bear Butt that making scaling optional would be the best of both worlds, but I’m not sure how feasible that would be to actually implement, technically and from a UI and communications point of view; one thing I’ve learned in my time as a software developer is that things are almost never as simple as they initially seem.
Still, I remain hopeful, of nothing else because I like the idea of being able to revisit old content and tackle it in a manner much closer to how it was designed; personal preferences about what you find fun, more than anything, will affect how enthusiastic you are about scaling.