POINTLESS ESSAY: Imagine a different Azeroth

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POINTLESS ESSAY: Imagine a different Azeroth

Post by Catasstrophy » Thu Feb 17, 2022 5:31 pm

While playing earlier today, I've had an idea... something that's been brewing in my head for ages came through in full and I had to stop and write for a few hours just to get it all out. It's just rough thoughts, barely edited, but I thought I might as well share them here. If nobody finds it the least bit interesting or compelling, then nothing has changed. And if someone out-there takes liking to the vision and feels inspired by it, then perhaps my autistic rambling has served a purpose for once.

So here's the idea and how I arrived at it.

Turtle WoW – as a concept – stands on the premise that Blizzard had gone astray when designing WoW all the way back in Vanilla. Not on the often touted idea that WoW used to be near perfect as a Warcraft MMO and was only ruined by the subsequent expansions – but on the assertion that it was extremely flawed right from the beginning and that indeed many mistakes were made. And I want to stress this part – the premise is not that Blizzard simply didn't have the time to implement everything (which, however, is obviously also true), but that some decisions they had made were just wrong. And in hindsight, we can clearly see it.

Before I go further, just one concrete example to make it perfectly clear. My favourite class by far is the paladin. I like it even the way it is in true Vanilla, but consider it to very much be a flawed gem. Very, very flawed. While I've never played the original beta version of WoW, I have read that paladins did originally have the ability Holy Strike – which, however, was later removed for the full release alongside other abilities. Ever since I've learned about that, I knew it was a mistake... and clearly the devs here have reached the same conclusion. It was a terrible mistake for the class. Blizzard got it wrong. And I can attest that indeed the paladin does play much, much nicer in this way and is already a lot more balanced (in terms of damage dealing) vis-a-vis its direct competition, the shaman. I've played both of these classes on 1.12.1 servers, so I can sort of compare it in my mind.

So in this way we have established the foundations – that even the original WoW has many design flaws that certain Warcraft veterans and enthusiasts can easily spot and improve upon. Again, especially given the hindsight.
With all of this stated, I would like to talk about one topic in particular. One very specific issue, which – I believe – most players aren't aware of. As in... it's not a huge issue (in the sense of making the game bad) and thus it's not noticed. Yet at the same time, with it addressed, the game could be a great deal better. The experience could be something truly amazing that most cannot yet imagine, because they never really thought about it from this perspective.

I am talking about levels. And I want to start by asking you a question... if Blizzard could royally mess up even very straight-forward things like basic class design and gearing – which they undoubtedly did – is it possible that they could have also gotten it wrong with the number of levels and the distribution of content? We do know with absolutely certainty that adding more and more levels later on was a mistake. It simply ruins the game in many different ways, escalating power-levels and numbers to absolutely crazy extremes. Blizzard themselves had to acknowledge this by eventually doing their level / stat squishes in certain expansions.

And again, we can clearly see that the Turtle devs recognize this issue, since they are adding more "horizontal" content, not "vertical" content. Horizontal simply means more options within the same span of levels / power - or "parallel content". Vertical means pushing power and/or levels up by a significant margin - "serial content", where you linearly progress along tiers, gaining more power. Small power increases within the framework of the same levels are certainly fine (something like an additional ultra-hard raid beyond Naxx that is essentially a T3.5, for example, sounds acceptable), but huge jumps accompanied by additional levels – as seen in the official expansions – only serve to render older content obsolete, thus actually decreasing the overall amount of relevant content available to the players.

Now, what if I told you that this dynamic goes the other way as well. By further reducing the total number of levels, you are making content even more horizontal in multiple different ways. Allow me to explain this in very clear terms, using only official Blizzard content. In Vanilla, the total range of player power wasn't all that wide. The difference between a level 60 in green-blue gear and a level 40 in really good blue-purple gear wasn't that staggering. Well geared twinks could pose a threat to capped players or at least to players of much higher levels. The absolute difference in stats and numbers wasn't overwhelming. Whereas if you move on to WotLK, then a raid geared level 60 can do absolutely nothing against a badly geared level 80 – which is the same gap of 20 levels. The disparity is much, much greater. And let's not even talk about Cataclysm, where the power-levels got cranked up to eleven. 65 versus an 85, that's a completely laughable comparison.

What good is it, when you – the player – can easily one-shot anything that's 10, 15 levels below you or lower? What good does it do for the game? All it means that most of the game is utterly trivial and inconsequential to your character. It's like entering a "god-mode" cheat into a game. It's fun maybe for the first five or ten minutes, but then it gets very old, very quickly. I would know – I have played the newer expansions, where anything outside of the most recently added continent dies in one hit and you can solo older raids.

And see, that's the beauty of Vanilla even as it is. Even if you're a level 60... soloing lower level instances can be quite tricky, depending on the class and the dungeon in question. Those level 40 elites do pack a punch and have a fair bit of health, so you most certainly can't just aggro fifty of them and AoE them down unless you're a mage and you kite them with your improved blizzard. And if you do careful pulls, you can still easily get into trouble.
But who is to say that this is as good as it gets? Or, indeed, who is to say that this is the exact sweet spot that cannot ever be improved upon? Allow me to take you to a different Azeroth, to show you a vision of a world that is both familiar, yet so very different. And then you can decide for yourself whether you like it better or not.

The player cap is level 20 – that is to say, each single level represents 3 levels in the original game and requires as much (or more) XP to gain. Rewards like new abilities and talent points are attributed in this 3-in-1 fashion as well, which represents no issue at all, because 1) you do not get new abilities every level anyway, and 2) talents are extremely incremental and in most cases it takes several points to get a substantial effect. Or, in other words, one or two points never make such a difference as to make the game unplayable or extremely frustrating. At the same time, each new level suddenly feels like a big achievement, unlike in the original game. Going from 37 to 38 isn't very special – 60 levels means the increments are tiny and you pretty much don't notice any particular power spike after gaining one level, unless you just learned some new crucial ability. But if you go from 12 to 13 on the path to 20, that's a big deal and you'll feel it.
Yet at the same time, the original relationship between higher and lower levels is kept intact – the grey, green, yellow, orange, red, and skull ratings and the associated bonuses or penalties. The ramifications of this are widespread.

In world PvP... yes, a level 20 player is still likely going to have much, much better gear than a level 13 player (similar as a 60 versus a 39), but that level 13 isn't going to be otherwise severely handicapped in attacking the level 20. In that sense, it will still be like a 13 against a 20 – and as we know, the normal level spread (the greatest difference) of battlegrounds is 9 levels. Thus, as soon as you hit 11, you're essentially in that classic BG level spread vis-a-vis capped players.
This means that a small group of level 13 players could realistically gang up on a level 20 player, the same way they would tackle a dungeon boss appropriate to their level. Whereas normally they would be at an extremely unfair disadvantage, with most of their attacks and abilities missing and getting resisted. This would make the game much more nuanced, balanced and even thrilling in the open world – while not really changing end-game PvP (20 vs 20) in any substantial way. It would mean that those players, who focus heavily on ganking low levels, would have a much more difficult time doing this, as those low levels could band together and actually defeat them without needing a capped player's help.

In PvE... a whole new world of possibilities would be opened. First, let's look at the experience of instances while leveling. Normally, you have a narrow window of dungeons available to you based on your level, while everything else is either grey and irrelevant or red/skull and undoable. But suddenly, each dungeon could be relevant for longer, while at the same time, you could essentially do minor raiding while leveling. Imagine that all dungeons can be entered by groups of ten (or perhaps even 15?). And so if you have a dungeon 4 or 5 levels higher than you (12 – 15 normally), you can essentially treat it as a raid and clear it with a large group. While, if you're at the same level as the instance, you will be inclined to take a small group, because there's a constant amount of loot (regardless of the number of players), so you want to avoid splitting it too much. If you want to get ahead of the curve in gear, you make large groups (risking getting nothing for yourself) and clear higher level instances – and thus you can also compete more easily against high level players in PvP. Yet you don't have to do that at all and you can just stick to your regular appropriate instances.
It's also a self-balancing mechanic, in a way. Players that are really bad at it – you know what I mean, those groups that wipe 12 times while clearing the Dead Mines – can power through in larger groups, yet will receive much less gear per player. While good players, who can clear it with fewer people, get rewarded by more gear or by better gear earlier.
This whole system lends itself exceptionally well to simply making all dungeons - regardless of level - much more difficult (and consequently giving them some better gear) thus pushing them up in relevance. If you want to do Dead Mines at level 6 (18), you can - but you'll need a large group. Or you could do it, say, at level 9 (27) with a small group and still get relevant gear. If you apply this design principle across the board, you're deliberately making PvE content very "top-heavy" - as in, it's all tuned for comparatively higher (power) levels vis-a-vis Vanilla, yet still doable early on if you put in the effort. This makes content yet more horizontal and keeps it relevant for much longer.

Secondly, let's look at instances at level 20 (60). Again, many more instances would remain relevant to you at the max level and thus they could drop gear / mats that have a use to you - or they could contain whole wings that are more difficult and more suited to you. The Sunken Temple, Maraudon, Uldaman and even Razorfen Downs could very easily remain relevant as the most basic dungeons at the cap. Perhaps even the Scarlet Monastery, to some degree. The Cathedral.
Essentially, you could make them – or parts / wings of them – much more difficult and give them better loot, so that they have more relevance to the max level. While those players, who are still leveling, could either only do those parts that are level-appropriate to them, or make larger groups and clear the more difficult content.
Imagine it like this... you're leveling and a handful of times around level 13, 14 you join a 10 man group for SM: Cathedral to get your quests done. But because of the sheer number of people, you never get lucky enough to win any loot and the difficulty is such that there is certainly some wiping involved, as well as investment into things like potions and buffs. And then finally, as you near the cap at lvl 19, you can join a 5 man group for the same instance and it all goes much more smoothly, with no prep and you do actually win that awesome piece of Scarlet armour that you wanted so badly for so long.

Thus, you add even more sense of accomplishment and progression. When you totally outlevel things and they are grey to you, it doesn't make you feel more powerful, because those things are out of sight and they are utterly irrelevant to you. When you play TBC, you don't feel super powerful because the Vanilla content is mostly grey to you. You just see the relevant content in front you and it's all the same as always. However when you put one raid tier on farm and move on to progressing the next tier, then you finally feel your power increase.
And this is precisely the same thing. Many of the dungeons, that would otherwise be totally irrelevant, go from extremely hard progression to farm as you cap and get more gear. Again, relevance can also be helped when aside from gear, those instances also drop materials that you need and can't get anywhere else, for example.
In the simplest of terms... if you want to log in and enjoy the Scarlet Monastery dungeons in a relevant fashion in Vanilla, you really need to have a character of the appropriate level. Once you cap, that is more or less gone. But here you could actually do that. You could genuinely log in on your level 20 character that has killed Rag already and is progressing BWL, and do a quick SM run with worse geared guild mates, while at the same time not totally dominating the whole instance, and while having to put in some actual effort, instead of totally face-rolling it. And all of it mainly because the elites are just a few levels below you and can easily hit you and give you a hard time.

In instanced PvP... essentially, the system could be simplified by having fewer level brackets. Perhaps you could go 5 – 9, 10 – 14, 15 – 19, 20. But that isn't really important here...

...instead what is of great importance is the leveling / world experience. The world itself and how you as a player would interact with it. Because that is the main point of this whole mental exercise and that's why I saved it for last. This is where the game could truly become brilliant.

As I have stated before... the main difficulty in Vanilla while leveling stems from the level-based penalties. Green quests are okay or easy, yellow quests warrant a little bit of caution at times, orange ones can be hard, and red ones undoably so, for most classes. Yet the actual power differences aren't that huge. When you're leveling in Darkshore, you could – based on your stats and numbers alone – easily kill many things in Ashenvale as well. But because they would be either red or skull to you, you'd struggle to even hit them, while they'd even get an advantage against you. And so you'd get killed very, very easily. And the game is so badly designed that even if you put in the extreme effort to kill something that is red or skull, you get no exceptional reward. You'd expect something really good, like getting double or triple XP for it, but no... you get basically nothing.

And in this alternate Azeroth that would be very different, because what would normally be red or skull to you would just be yellow or orange at worst in most cases. Thus you could easily venture across the world into various zones and do quests against more difficult enemies for better rewards. Or you could sit back and stick with green zones and quests, because they would remain relevant for much, much longer. Of course, this would be naturally balanced by you being deeply undergeared for your level – if you're level 10 (30) and you keep hanging out in level 5 (15) areas and doing quests there, you will get some XP from it (green quest XP) and slowly progress, but you'll have very little money and very bad gear. With safety comes weakness. Whereas if you're 5 and you manage to do some quests (perhaps with friends) in a level 10 area, you can get significantly ahead of the curve with your gear and money.

This alone would make the world so much more dynamic and allow for so many divergent gameplay styles, instead of everyone being funneled to follow more or less the same path every time. You could do amazing things. Take a group of friends with whom you have just finished the Ragefire Chasm, board the ship in Ratchet, go directly to Booty Bay and do some quests there together. You'd struggle alone even with single mobs, but with others it would work. Essentially the world would suddenly gain huge, HUGE amounts of potential group content.
And honestly, anything that encourages group play is great for an MMO.

But that isn't all... oh no. There's so much more you could do with this. With the level spread of only 20, you'd no longer have to have entire zones fall under specific arbitrary numbers. Such as Elwynn Forest being about 1 – 10, 12 at most (with the cap of 60). You could do that totally differently. In fact, you could do it Warcraft III style, where different kinds of enemies have different typical levels and stats.
So if everything falls into the 1 – 20 split, except for high-end bosses that go into the 20s, you can say that kobolds, for example, are very basic enemies and all of them (except for rare and boss kobolds) fall into the levels 1 – 5, regardless of zone. Whereas, say, certain types of demons would be very high level regardless of zone – with infernals, for example, being all 17 – 20+, because they are just that dangerous. The same with dragonkin, those – except for whelps – would also be very high level enemies. While wolves, for example, might be more like the kobolds.

And so you can see where this is going... you have Ashenvale, for example. Generally full of low-to-mid level enemies like wolves and spiders, murlocks and furbolgs and so on. Yet it also has many small areas with completely different opponents. A lot more dangerous mid-level nagas and worgen. And even high level enemies like demons.
Thus, the zone would remain relevant to players across most of the level range, and you – as a player – would have a reason to keep returning there for more difficult quests with better rewards. Or to group up with others to do those quests early. You'd even have a reason to interact and group up with high level players. If you're 17 and going to Ashenvale to do quests in the Demon Fall Canyon, it would make perfect sense to take with you a level 10 player, for example.
This would encourage a lot of travel, grouping up, and revisiting old places. It would mean most of the world would stay relevant for the entirety of the game. You could even support this by redistributing things like mineral veins. Why would things like copper and iron be distributed based on the arbitrary level of the zone, and why would most materials become totally irrelevant later on? No, spread it out across the world in engaging ways, include high level repices that need both high level and low level materials (why couldn't a recipe require both enchanted thorium and bronze?), and get rid of the weird and arbitrary progression, where you must go through copper and bronze before you can work with iron and so on. Make iron the baseline, make it abundant, and turn the likes of copper into more special, supplementary materials. With alchemy, make all herbs relevant all the time. And so on, even through potion-chains, when you need low level potions as mats for high level ones.

But that's already straying far too much into the question of professions. The point is... the world doesn't have to be this linear, arbitrary thing, where you mechanically progress from zone to zone, and where you one-hit a mob, while a different mob one-hits you, even though they look almost identical.
Imagine an Azeroth that makes logical sense. You see a naga warrior wielding a trident and you don't have to look at the level number next to the portrait to discern whether you'll get killed in three hits or whether it will be an easy kill for you. You know Azeroth, you've experienced it before. These creatures are typically in a very specific power range, because that's what they are – (for example) level 10 – 14 enemies with a lot of hit points, slow, hard-hitting attacks, slow movement speed on land and high speed in water.
You come across a mine infested with kobolds and you know that they are weak level 1 – 5 enemies with very few hitpoint and wimpy attacks, who however sometimes have geomancers among them that cast moderately dangerous spells.
You come across a Burning Legion infernal and it would NEVER cross your mind that this could possibly be a dead easy encounter with just another generic enemy that will die in a few hits. It's an infernal. It cannot be level 2, it just can't, the same way a tiny little murlock cannot be level 20 and one-shot you.
But of course... a rule is hardly a rule if it doesn't have some rare exceptions... and that in itself would also make things extremely interesting.

If you sufficiently compress the levels - and power levels, perhaps even further lowering high end player/gear stats to make differences across the level range smaller still - all of this becomes very possible and easily achievable. In principle, I mean – it would take insane amounts of work to actually implement it in any capacity, so don't get me wrong. That is why this is going into the "Creative Corner" and not "Suggestions". It's just an idea I find fascinating. But again, the game would become that much more immersive and thrilling, with much more relevant and overlapping content for everyone.
It wouldn't be a problem that in the middle of an area full of level 6 enemies, you have a sub-zone filled with level 11 nagas that can easily kill you. Just like with traditional elite quests, it would be just another opportunity to either group up to get ahead or to come back later. And to bring together players of all sorts of levels.
But of course, I would also keep elite quests on top of that, to further diversify it. If you're 10, you can group up for a level 14 quest... but if it's a level 14 elite quest, then that's something even a capped player might struggle with alone, depending on class and gear.

This concept, I believe, is far superior to Blizzard's level scaling, which just forces everything to be on your own level, thus never giving you either a sense of challenge or a sense of power. The universal scaling is just awful and makes everything bland... while my concept is pretty much the opposite. It opens the world up and provides vast new challenges, as well as the ability to be safe and stay in your power zone, all for different benefits and detriments. It makes the world so much bigger. No longer are you thinking terms of "these 3 zones are available to me right now"... you're considering almost the whole world at once. So many different zones have little areas you can do at different points in your journey, there's always a reason to come back and fill in some gaps. You don't simply "beat" most zones and consider them totally safe... there are those dangerous dark pockets with high level enemies or elites. And everything is that much more alive and dynamic.

Dare I say... everything is that much more WoW as it should have always been. Much closer to its Warcraft III roots. Simply elegant, instead of arbitrary and convoluted.

And that's it... just some of my musings today. I'm not expecting anyone to actually read it, but if I've written it, I might as well share it. Have a good one and enjoy this wonderful server.

On that note... if any of the devs are reading this, I'd like to thank you for what you have done so far. I'm just a level 22 high elf paladin for now, but this is already the best Vanilla I've ever played. I can tell it's a labour of love. So many little details, so many gaping quest holes in various zones filled with quality content, ... it's beautiful. This is in many ways what I've been dreaming about since as far back as ten years ago. So again... you've done something great and I feel truly moved by it.

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Re: POINTLESS ESSAY: Imagine a different Azeroth

Post by Allwynd01 » Fri Feb 18, 2022 6:36 pm

I did not read most of this, but I read about how levels were implemented and power creep and I will share my two cents on that.

I think even in Vanilla, leveling feels messed up after around level 40 or 45. Up to that point, the pace is OK, but then it becomes really slow, like somehow artificially slow.

That is one thing that has always bothered me a bout WoW and most MMORPGs that copied WoW - at first you level up too fast and at the end you level up too slow. I've always wished if leveling speed could be consistent throughout the whole process.

I think this comes from the fact that the developers intended for new players to level up the first 20 levels fast enough so they can see their characters evolve faster and to go through multiple zones, but this has probably lead to the problem where they were left with not enough zones so this is where the slower leveling comes in.

It could've easily been solved by adding a handful of other zones, but it wasn't done.

As for the expansions that introduce additional levels and power creep, I think that's just a very lazy way to create some sense of progress and from that to increase the grind and time sinks just to keep players engaged for longer with less content.

Just take a look at Outlands and Northrend - they are literally whole continents and each of them adds just 10 levels. If we use Azeroth zones as a measurement, then Outland should be worth 30 levels, increasing the level cap from 60 to 90 and Northrend should introduce at least 50 levels, increasing the level cap from 90 to 140.

That was not made, most likely, because it would require a lot more content to be created for each expansion. This is one of the reason why I only like Vanilla WoW and I believe the expansions, starting with TBC are the beginning of the dumbing-down and death of WoW.

Not only that, but the other thing that makes me dislike all expansions is the addition of flying mounts, which makes the content feel even smaller - why learn to navigate new areas like you can with the ones in Azeroth? So much so that you don't even need to open up the map to know where you are, be mindful of aggressive mobs and avoid them when you can just summon your flying mount and travel in a straight line from point A to point B and occasionally checking the map just so you don't miss your destination... Kinda like when you're driving with a GPS at a place which you don't know, like some tourist.

I personally don't have a problem with levels, my main MMORPG right now is LOTRO, where the latest expansion increased the level cap from 130 to 140 and I like that. I like a lot of levels, because I associate that with lots of content and it excites me. I'm a player who is 95% interested in leveling up a character, questing and exploring new zones, "End Game" to me is a stupid concept that doesn't interest me in the least and I think the name is also stupid, because it indicates that the game actually ends and you should stop playing.

My dream MMORPG is one that has a MASSIVE world and the main progress is done through questing, the level cap is around 500 or 1000 and there are unique zones for all of those areas, except that it takes literally 2-3 years of playing constantly to reach the level cap so there is tons of content at all times.

The problem in LOTRO with its 140 levels is that around level 60 you earn enough trait (talent) points to level up one of your Class Traits tree (talent tree). And from then on every 2 levels you earn one trait point and you can then start investing in a 2nd tree, except that requires two points instead of one and effectively after level 60, the character progress becomes almost non-existent. So even an MMORPG with 140 levels that I like is what I imagine to be a fun journey.

So whether WoW has 60, 90, 100 or just 20 levels, it doesn't really change a thing. I think it's important at what pace a character progresses from level 1 to the level cap and what amount of progress is there and is it equally distributed or very abundant at one point and then non-existent at another.

One thing I like about Classic Dungeons & Dragons is the level 20 cap and the small numbers of stats. For instance a level 20 character can have 180 HP as opposed to a WoW's level 60 character having 5000 HP, which I think is a stupid way to measure things. This becomes even worse with expansions where people end up with about 200,000 HP and it gets shortened to like 200K, which ironically looks like just 200, and it begs the question "Why the hell should they use such big numbers? Do they think the players are some kind of simpletons who drool at big numbers?" This is very present in Japanese RPG games where they seem to be absolutely obsessed with big numbers. A simple apple could cost 2 Gold, but instead they make it cost 2,000 Gold and an epic sword that should cost 1500 Gold, ends up costing 1,500,000 Gold, which is stupidly high for no reason.

In the end, daydreaming "What it could have been?" is kinda useless to me. We should accept things as they are if we can or ignore them if we disagree and move on.

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Re: POINTLESS ESSAY: Imagine a different Azeroth

Post by Mativh » Sun May 15, 2022 5:38 pm

Well thought through concepts, thanks for sharing it. I'm seeing the points you've made the same way.

There are other alternatives also, I've entertained similar ideas;
like lowering the power gap between levels, enough to not make lower level content obsolete, as it is now gameplay wise, but still having a sense of progression, as well as removing the level limit, but it would get exponentially slow down to the point where on higher levels a level up would happen very very slowly like in Diablo 2, so "max level" wouldn't be a goal, just getting to those realistically reachable levels. There wouldn't be endgame, just content spread throughout leveling but also lower levels not being obsolete because the difference between lower levels and the highest ones
[that the vast majority would reach (50s/60s), like in Diablo 2 it was at most late 80s early 90s, after that it was extremely slow and not too relevant, something that happened very rarely as one kept playing]
would not be bigger than for example a level 30 vs a fresh level 60.
The xp requirement, slow-down of leveling as well as available content would still put 60 as the psychological milestone, but not having max level and "end" game, insteas focusing on the world through leveling would feel right.

I always thought it was ruining the immersion that for the sake of feeling of progression there was such a huge gap in power, many times the same kind of enemy could be one shotted on a lower level while a higher level version could pose a threat.
If we look at the Warcraft world through the lense of lore, like a living breathing world, not like a defined leveling path in a game, then your idea makes more sense regarding the NPCs being like in Warcraft 3;
treated not as means to level up, but having the strenght which makes sense for them to have lore wise, compared to your character (like the kind of fixed lower levels for all kobolts), as well as all of the world being a little more accesible/relevant.
It can be achieved with either your idea of lower max level, or my through lowering level gaps.

To keep the world and leveling relevant, I've also proposed a system here viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2903&p=18137#p18137 to be able to reset the levels once max is reached, but I like more what you've described here.

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Re: POINTLESS ESSAY: Imagine a different Azeroth

Post by Zhohan » Wed Jun 22, 2022 8:10 pm

I read the entirety of your rant and I'm in agreement of it! I wouldn't expect Turtle to make this, but WoW would have been a lot better designed from the get-go if that's the way it was designed. I've often been disappointed at the way the community and developers at Blizzard see the game.

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