Neighborhood of Warcraft
I’ve often said that the people claiming that leveling up a new toon were making too much of a big deal out of how long it would take to get from level 1 to max (currently 50). So I rolled up a new toon just to measure how long it would take.
I was also curious about the leveling experience once Shadowlands rolled. Shadowlands was our first ever level squish, meaning we start Shadowlands at level 50, and everything else is squished in between level 1 and 50. So this experiment is also commentary on that.
The toon in question is a Night Elf mage named Tride (I tried, er, tride to get the name Trial, or Trile, but they were taken). I went with Frost spec as I felt that would be more challenging than Fire, and I know squat about playing Arcane. As it turns out, that choice was revelatory.
The rules are simple: leveling at the most casual rate possible. No dungeons or raids, no instances of any kind that WoW didn’t railroad me into. Follow the natural progression of the questlines only. No special events.1
The starting experience posed an immediate choice to make. In Shadowlands they introduced a new, generic starting area for all new toons. So I had a choice between that and going old school. While I was curious about this new starting area, I elected to go old school and start in Teldrassil.2 By the time I was level 10, I was camped out in Darnassus.
Once based out of Tree City, I had a few decisions to make. The results were as follows:
- Mining and Herbing, because raw materials always sell.
- No to fishing, I don’t need to give up a bag slot and it’s a waste of time.
- Maybe on cooking, to keep a little buff going.3
There was a little bit of cheating. I logged in on Jasra and bought myself some good healing potions and bandages with her money.
Once out of the Tree, it was time to get moving. I’m still annoyed that we’re dealing with the post-Cataclysm world here instead of based out of Auberdine, and the broken landscape is beyond frustrating.4
However, even at level, this part of the world doesn’t pose too many real issues. There was some dying, yes, especially when I got my aim off and blinked into something nasty.
The Tower of Athalaxx was the only intractable quest in that zone, and this illustrates the first problem with the new leveling experience. Namely, scaling.
In all zones now, mobs are scaled to match your level. If you’re level 25, expect to see level 25 mobs all around. And that’s fine, to an extent, but in the case of elites like the denizens of that tower, you either need to group (a no-no for this experiment), or get beefy and outlevel the boss. And now … that’s not possible. Blizz need to tune some of the beefier mobs out there to work better with the leveling experience.
In Classic, one of the quests that gets you out of Darkshore and into Auberdine is “The Sleeper Awakes” or something like that. I am glad that one’s gone. Hella annoying it was, and on several toons in Vanilla / BC / Wrath, I just skipped that one completely.
Another difference is that pre-Cata, you get sent to Astranaar first thing, but post-Cata you get sent to Orendil’s Retreat for a mini quest-hub and then it keeps progressing you further in until you do end up in Astranaar.
This is where your home base will be for a good 15 levels at least.
Chromie Time – I hit a wall
Here’s where a big disconnect happens.
Pre-SL, progression in these zones progressed normally. Post-SL, when you hit level 30, everything just … stops. No XP from killing anything. All mobs are level 30. Quest completion offers a fraction of what it did. And this applies to all mobs, in all eras. Go to Shattrath, and everything’s level 30. Go to Northrend, same dealy.
There aren’t many bread crumbs here, but the answer is that you really need to be on Chromie Time. What that is is that you speak with Chromie in Stormwind5 and select an era that you want to play in. You then get an introductory quest to get you started in the era you wish to quest in, and then off you go. So if you choose Burning Crusade, for example, you could proceed immediately to Hellfire and start leveling there.
And if you choose not to go to Hellfire, well, all mobs in all zones now scale from levels 7 to 50. So you can continue to level on Azeroth. One annoying thing about this is that Chromie doesn’t offer this as an option, you just have to guess. The other is that if you don’t start in Exile’s Reach, you end up having to figure this out on your own – the Command Board did not light up with a quest marker on the map, but it DID have the quest available to go see Chromie.
So I’m not sure at what point you’re supposed to pick up Chromie Time, but I do know that you have to do so no later than level 30.
This throws a huge error into my numbers – I spent over an hour figuring this out.
I got better
One reason I chose Frost for my spec was that canonically, right now it doesn’t hit as hard as other specs, and, as I mentioned, I had no clue how to play Arcane (I’ve tried in the past). And I did, I struggled a lot early on, even using some Fire spells out of desperation.
But as I progressed, so did my toolbox. The big one was when Brain Freeze became available, this opened Flurry as an insta-cast, and later on that allowed it to buff Ice Lance. Between those two, as well as the Frozen Orb, by level 35 I was really kicking butt.
So this underlines a huge flaw in the Frost spec, and maybe others – at lower levels they’re really not up to the task that they’re assigned. It isn’t until you’re halfway through the talent tree that you can really feel like you’re getting somewhere, and, I suspect, all zones are currently designed as if you have access to all talents and spells.
Bottom line: that was a lot of work, retuning the old world to work with the level squish. But you really need another pass, Blizz, this time with toons at appropriate level.
Having gotten my leveling thing worked out, I finished off Stonetalon6, and forayed into Desolace at level 39, where I dinged level 40 and quickly ported over to Stormwind7 to get my fast flying8.
Again, as I gained levels I gained in power. This is one good thing that Blizz has accomplished, is the notion of spell ranks once again, but this time it isn’t just scaling – each spell rank can (and usually does) bring additional effects with it. So, as you progress in levels, you genuinely do feel more powerful, one of the key values of leveling.
As a result, clearing out Desolace was a pretty trivial task, though I did bite off more than I could chew on the ghost magnet quest. Other than Stupid Hunter Tricks (as payed on a Mage), Desolace was a cake walk.
One thing that puzzled me was that while I was expecting to be sent to Feralas once I completed that zone, instead I had no choice to go resume my questing in Southern Barrens.
Southern Barrens and Theramore
As I completed the final quests of Southern Barrens, I dinged 49 and was directed to Theramore, where I picked up a bunch of quests to go kill things and save a surprisingly ancient hermit and come to the rescue of some Goblins (no, really!). My journey to 50 was almost complete, and I realized at this point that I had been cheated.
Specifically, the World of Warcraft had shrunk. I had slavishly stuck to my home continent as I leveled up just to see what would happen. What happened was that I only barely saw Thousand Needles and Feralas in passing, with Tanaris, Un’Goro, Felwood10, Azshara11, and Silithus completely missing from my quest log. I suspect that the same would have occurred had I chosen Ironforge or Stormwind as a starting point. And that’s really sad.
While the level squish is mostly done well, barring a couple of technical issues which I suspect will never be fixed, it emphasizes exactly why I was against such a move. The problem I just described above has always been there since Cataclysm. When they revamped the zones for Cataclysm, then never went back and adjusted things so that you could visit the whole world. Quests would go gray before you were finished a zone, and you’d be off to Outland long before you completed other zones. Hell, Winterspring was so infrequently visited that I even forgot about it in the previous paragraph.
And that was never addressed, and that will never be addressed. The World of Warcraft is reduced to your general neighborhood. The Neighborhood of Warcraft.
Thoughts and Conclusions
At the end of the day, I ended up at 54 hours /played to get to Level 50. Subtract an hour for my confusion at level 30 if you wish, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.
What this adds up to is if someone played 8 hours a day it would take just under a week. A more realistic 4 hours and we’re talking around two weeks. I’d call it three weeks of dedicated playtime to get to the point that you’re ready to start leveling on whatever the new expansion is.
My conclusion here is that while it’s certainly not a gigantic burden to level up to 50 in a reasonable time, three weeks is probably longer than the endgame-eager “hardcore raider” mindset. Hell, ONE week is probably longer than they’d be willing to put in, and any time put in for this sort of thing is probably done grudgingly.
I still think that paying for a boost is appropriate in this case. I am forever worn out and tired of Blizz bending over backwards to a tiny sliver of the population and wish they would spend time making the journey to endgame more interesting. There are years’ worth of adventures locked away behind a poorly designed and paced leveling experience, and it’s a damned shame that nobody has any reason to visit them – much less enjoy them – other than the completionists out there dragging their max-level asses through content that they don’t even appreciate because how can you if you’re life isn’t in danger?
Tride the Frost Mage’s days are over, and I thank him for his service. I understand the process better now, and will no longer feel that people that don’t want to do even this little bit of leveling are necessary lazy or unwilling to put in the time. It’s a not insignificant amount of time that obviously I don’t begrudge12, but others might.
A new player just getting started will forever be missing what the rest of us experienced, for good or ill. How to explain to someone in the future that all these Chromie Zones were once played in sequence? I’ll leave that up to wiser heads than myself.
My adventures as a leveling toon ended when I dinged level 50. Chromie let me know that I was about to be kicked out. She gave me a countdown, and then booted me to present day, at the courtyard of Stormwind Keep. When I tried to port back to Darnassus, I was dropped at Darkshore, where all that was once our home lay smoking on the horizon13. With a heavy heart, I sighed and ported to Ironforge where I sold all my stuff, mailed the cash to Jasra, and quietly ended the enterprise.
- Okay, the Lunar festival was running at one point and I cleared a few Elders because those unanswered quest markers on the map were driving me MEGA HELLNUTS CRAZY.
- So sue me, the War of the Thorns is still fresh for me, OKAY?
- At some point I did cheat and bought stuff off the AH to level cooking.
- Why is it that the Night Elves are getting it in the teeth every other expansion and yet somehow we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Orcs and be okay with them cutting down every tree that they can see and then some? Give me a break.
- Of course, Stormwind. Always, of course, Stormwind.
- Having never visited the peak, once a must-have! (addendum: a later quest took me there. Duh.)
- Of course, Stormwind. Always … wait, I’m repeating myself.
- No, that’s not cheating – neither the teleport, which is a Light-given Mage perk, nor the fast flying. The assumption here is that I’m leveling an alt for … whatever the leveler needs that level 50 toon for. One assumes that the leveler already has mounts, and, as you are well aware now, SIR, mounts are account wide9.
- If someone was leveling a new toon, this would be very, very sad. I’ll essplain later.
- Where even is the bread crumb for that zone?
- Same question.
- Obviously not, I just blew three weekends on a silly experiment.
- As I said, War of the Thorns is still a bitter memory for me.