This post is all speculation, based on the purported leaks of a new WoW expansion. Spoilers may be present within!
The conversation and thoughts emerging from the supposed leak of WoW having a new expansion called Veil of Shadows has really sparked my imagination. Link here to my post on that if you haven’t heard!
So, one thing stood out to me (yes, more than Pandaren DKs!). It’s this – the idea that leveling would be done in old Azeroth zones, which would be receiving a facelift (and probably some tentacles). Coupled with three completely new zones, that makes an expansion.
Okay, so at first I thought to myself that we’d probably level mostly in the new zones, doing Kul’Tiras, then Dragon Isles, with Nazjatar last. Or they’d be scaling, and you could do them in any order.
But I went for my lunchtime walk at work, and I thought to myself, “why do levels even matter when most of our power is from gear?” I thought about this for about a mile of walking distance, and the real thought slapped me in the face.
“Why do zones constrain the leveling and storytelling within the game?”
Huh, now here’s a thought.
Let me explain – throughout WoW’s history, we’ve had a zone story. You start in your race or class zone at level 1 (or 55, or 98, whatevs). You do the zone story, and end up around level 10 or 11, at which point the story ferries you to another zone and another story, which may or may not connect to the story you just went through.
This continues all the way until Legion, at which point you can start picking zones in any order, but the flow is still the same. Go to zone, do the disconnected zone story, end of zone, breadcrumb for next zone, repeat.
Before I explain what I think will happen if this Veil of Shadows leak is true, and that is a big if – let me relate the concept that broke down the wall for me.
In Final Fantasy XIV, you level your first class/job primarily through the main scenario quest. It’s a long, branching chain of quests that take you all over the place, but they do one thing really well – the story remains a cohesive whole from start to finish. I couldn’t tell you which zones belong to which level, because while that does matter, the game doesn’t really push you to know that. It pushes you to follow the story hooks, and the story is made better for it. There are a few gameplay gaps, here and there, in which you can then stay in the zone you’re in at that time in order to do FATEs, dungeons, or sidequests for enough experience to level up and get to the next main scenario quest.
But the key driver of your progression is the MSQ – not level (usually) and not a series of disconnected zone stories.
So, with that context delivered, what do I think we’re going to get in Veil of Shadows, disclaimers about reality of leaks noted?
What if I told you…that none of the three new zones were level-up content at all?
What if I told you that the concept of “X number of zones per level” was going away altogether?
Here’s my ideal vision, retrofitting these supposed leaks to fit:
Azeroth and Northrend are all available for level-scaled gameplay, and further are phased to 110 players to show void corruption and story hooks. The “faction campaign” mentioned in the notes is actually the main story for level-up and further patch content, much like the Order quests served in that role in Legion. You go to a faction leader, do a few unique quests, and then can choose 3 different story hooks that need to be completed to open the new zones.
There would be the Path of C’Thun – running through the forces of the Void in Kalimdor, leading up to a story moment with the big eyeball himself. You repel his forces, there’s a cool story conclusion, boom.
The Path of Yogg-Saron – leading you through a void-infested Northrend, fighting back against a void-tainted scourge, and maybe finally getting real quests in Crystalsong Forest.
And finally, The Path of N’Zoth – having you run through the forces of the Old Gods in Eastern Kingdoms.
In between each of these, you can have more faction-specific quests or content, and each chain of quests can serve to deliver lore for multiple dungeons, raids, and other bits of content. The experience curve would be built such that you would go 110-120 by running through these 3 story chains, and then when you reach that point, you get your breadcrumbs to go run to the new zones, doing 3 full zones of content as endgame only, which would serve to introduce the standard level cap Normal-mode dungeons, and our ultimate launch story raid, which I suspect involves Queen Azshara.
I like this model for a number of reasons:
-It retains the flexibility of the Legion system – you pick the story, do any of the Old God Path stories however you want!
-It doesn’t rely on a single zone and aesthetic for a long patch of time. You get to traverse all the zones in a given continent! Old WoW stuff, even back then, had a pretty good variety of environments across the world. This would just serve to amplify awareness of that.
-It allows story hooks that harken back to old WoW – imagine going to Silithus and having the Cenarion Circle Offensive greet you as an old friend and ally as they push back against the aggressive forces of C’Thun? How cool would that be? Very, if I may say so myself!
-You could even have branching paths within the story routes – doing multiple zones in parallel. Since you can already fly in these zones as-is, there’s no need to constrain quest chains to single zones or hubs anymore. You could have quests sending you all over Kalimdor, EK, or Northrend at a moment’s notice.
-It works with the idea of Warships from those notes- you park on the shore and do an intro scenario to claim a base of operations in the continent, and then you can return to the ship at any time, with a handy marker on the world map to show you where it is. The ship could even move around with story progression to show that the heroes of Azeroth are pushing deeper into the void-held lands.
-It gives you a huge burst of new content at level cap. Instead of seeing all the zones during leveling, leaving you with one new endgame zone, now you’d have 3, and on top of that, phased, level-scaling World Quests available over the entirety of Azeroth. You could get easily as much story content as was squeezed into Suramar, but spread out over 3 new zones, that could be tackled in parallel rather than one after the other.
-Story wise, it allows the forces of your faction and the neutral forces of Azeroth to split up geographically, and then story-wise combine efforts for the worst of the void-borne forces in the South Seas.
-It offers patch content potential – imagine getting an 8.1 where you have a 4th path – The Path of Y’Shaarj taking you through a void-torn Pandaria? How awesome would that be?
I really think, and hope, that this is the path Blizzard takes. The first logical step towards a new, more interesting MMO experience was making level not such an artificial gate to exploration. The next one would be, in my mind, using the game’s greatest asset to push new boundaries – the world of Azeroth is well fleshed-out, and has a sentimental place in player’s hearts.
There’d be no greater way to motivate us to kick ass to save it quite like showing the whole damn thing under siege, in a way that they’ve never done before.