I’ve been leveling some fresh characters, in preparation for Wrath. The last character I leveled from scratch before this batch was my shaman, a year and some months ago. I did this through the draenei starting zones of Azuremyst and Bloodmyst. These two zones are dense in quests and provide a fluid and effortless progression through the first twenty levels. They also provide ample background for the draenei’s crash on Azeroth. Regardless of how silly dimensional spacegoats may seem, Azuremyst and Bloodmyst are decent examples of what starting zones should be.

Playing a priest through Dun Morogh and other early Eastern Kingdoms zones, I remembered just how poorly designed the classic leveling content really is. Slogging through the old world is excruciating. So much so that it drove me to delete my priest and sign up for the recruit-a-friend program. Since then, I’ve managed to level a warlock and a priest to 60, and I’m now working on a hunter and a rogue.

The experience begs to question when the old world content should undergo addition or renovation. Considering the absolutely positive leveling experience Wrath has to offer, I believe that time is now. And phasing could be utilized to minimize the work that would be needed to refine the content.

Quest and Objective Density

I have to run all the way up there?The old world lacks a high density of quests and objectives close in proximity to the hubs from which the quests are obtained. There’s a quest with objectives in Westfall that you have to pick up from Stormwind of all places. If you forget to pick this quest up while visiting Stormwind for training, it’s arguably pointless to go back and pick it up. Then there’s a quest you pick up at the lighthouse (a quest most people are unaware of, unless they check Wowhead) that requires you to literally travel the entire length of Westfall’s coast to kill all of the murlocs required to complete it. Perhaps the zone that highlights this problem the most is Alterac. Pretty much every quest you get that has objectives in Alterac is not actually picked up in Alterac. Rather, it they are picked up in Southshore, in Hillsbrad.

Consider Redridge, the third human zone in leveling progress. The Dry Times, Price of Shoes, and messenger quests require you to travel around to Stormwind, Goldshire, Sentinel Hill, that stupid little dwarf camped in the hills of Westfall (who requires you to obtain five hops), and then Darkshire. You get a total of 4885 experience for all three of these quests, or roughly 23 percent of the experience required to get to level 20. That’s 23 percent of a level in about an hour, meaning it would take about four hours to level if somebody did only these types of quests. That’s far too long for level 20. Furthermore, the type of travel required is not fun whatsoever.

What’s even more baffling in regards to Redridge is that the Price of Shoes is required to open up three other quests in Redridge. You must fly to Stormwind, run down to Goldshire, back to Stormwind, and then fly back to Redridge (or hearth back to it) if you want to do A Baying of Gnolls, Underbelly Scales, and Howling in the Hills (all well-designed quests).

In my opinion, the objective for the Price of Shoes should be moved to Stormwind. Grimbooze Thunderbew, the dwarf that gives a keg required for Dry Times should be moved to Sentinel Hill, and the Darkshire and Goldshire portions of the quest should be removed entirely. I also think the Messenger to Stormwind and Messenger to Westfall quests should be removed, while Messenger to Darkshire serves as a quest meant to usher someone to Duskwood as the next zone in progression after Redridge.

It would also help a leveling player if the zones actually had a fluid and logical line of progression to begin with.

The Fluid and Logical Progression of Quests Through Zones

Here to there, over there, back to here, back there, and finally there.Because some of the quest hubs in classic leveling zones aren’t very dense, a person doesn’t always get enough levels to progress from zone to zone in a fluid and logical manner. Some of the zones aren’t even designed with tight level ranges in mind. Stranglethorn Vale, for example, contains quests in a range from 30 all the way up through the mid-40′s. That’s fifteen levels for one zone. This wouldn’t be a problem if a person could actually stay in the zone all the way from 30 to 45, but it is pretty much impossible without being on the recruit-a-friend system.

What bothers me most is that many think you should be able to go from Elwynn Forest, to Westfall, to Redridge and then Duskwood, and so on. But you almost always have to supplement your leveling with quests from other zones miles away, before you can move on to what you would think is the next zone in line. When starting a new human character, I’ve found I always have to go from Elwynn, to Westfall, briefly into Loch Modan (a dwarf zone), back to Westfall, then to Redridge, and Duskwood, but I always have to supplement the middle of Duskwood with quests from the Wetlands (another early dwarf zone) before I return to finish it off.

I don’t mind travel between zones, so long as you’re traveling to a zone such that it serves as the “next place in line.” It would be great if you could simply go from Elwynn, to Westfall, to Redridge, to Duskwood, then Hillsbrad (maybe a boat that takes you there, so you don’t have to ride through several other zones), Arathi, Alterac, etc. I shouldn’t have to go briefly to Loch Modan or the Wetlands if I want to level smoothly through the human zones of Elwynn, Westfall, Redridge and Duskwood.

TBC Didn’t Justify Changes to Old World Questing

Blizzard hasn’t ignored the problems with its classic content. They did lower the experience required to level from 20 to 60, and they did add quests to Dustwallow for those in the upper 30′s. While they did commit some resources to these changes, they chose not to use their resources renovating any other classic zones. And, truthfully, I think they were right not to do so.

While The Burning Crusade did offer some major advances in quest density and zone progression concepts, it did little to innovate the way we quest through content. Yes, TBC did introduce bombing runs, the Ring of Blood, and questlines with small cut scenes like those involving Akama and Illidan in Shadowmoon Valley. But such quests were few and far between and they weren’t innovative enough to really justify a complete renovation of the old world.

However, I’m one to think Wrath of the Lich King does justify more renovation of the classic outdoor leveling content.

Why Wrath Justifies Changes to Old World Questing

I’ve quested my way thoroughly through Northrend. I’ve done every zone, and 90 to 100 percent of the quests in each. Furthermore, I have done the death knight starting area. So I have enough experience to understand the big picture and what the potential quests can offer using the technology introduced in Wrath. In a word, it is fantastic.

You have a quest that puts players on the back of a horse with literally hundreds of worgen chasing them. To manage their escape, they have to throw fire bombs at them from the back of a horse, while an NPC escapee is at the reigns.

There’s a quest puts players on the back of a giant frost wyrm. Players use this wyrm to devastate a swarm of the Scarlet Crusade’s armies.

Another quest provides people with two hot burning irons to torment a member of the Scarlet Crusade into giving them information about what the Crusade calls “The Crimson Dawn.”

One specific questline opens with an epic cut scene: a battle at the gates of Icecrown. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you what happens. I will note this quest leads to further developments that explain the diplomatic complexity of the resulting situation, followed by a huge battle inside the Undercity itself, complete with highly notable NPC’s and soldiers at your side. This is not the same Undercity Horde players know and love. Yes, the players participating in this battle are technically in the same zone as those who would simply access their banks, but they cannot see the people who are on this quest, nor can the people on the quest see those who are there normally. This is an example of “phasing,” a new technology included in Wrath.

At this point, it is easy to realize what could be done within classic zones. Phasing technology could be used to add new quests, without changing too many of the existing ones. This would open up the possibility of creating new supplemental leveling content that allows players to stay within a zone for longer, which would also develop smoother transitions from zone to zone. New quests would also progress the story of each zone further or with more depth. And these quests could involve new systems, such as the vehicle system behind siege engines.

Would it be a lot for new players to take in? No doubt. But why wouldn’t you want to introduce some of the more exciting systems to new players early on? Especially when the first quests introducing these systems could help ease them into the mechanics. Overall, it would provide a positive learning experience and hook more players to the game earlier.

Would Renovating Old World Leveling Content Be a Good Business Decision?

It is understandably a large undertaking for the development team to delegate the renovation of classic quests and zone progression. So much so that you do have to ask if the results would be worth the effort. On one hand, if efforts to revamp the old world leveling content cause such a huge delay in new end-game content, old players could end up quitting and Blizzard would lose a large chunk of revenue. On the other hand, Blizzard could be losing thousands of potential customers a year due to the fact that WoW’s leveling content is becoming out-of-date.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother touching old world instances. They are still relevant to leveling and to commit resources to them would be pointless. But the outdoor old world content needs some serious help.

I believe it is more than possible to renovate the old world as sort of a “side project.” Certainly, Blizzard would have to take a few experienced quest designers away from developing new zones and quests, but they don’t have to devote all of them to the renovation project. This would put some focus on both the development of new content, to satiate the veteran appetite, and the improvement of old content, to help retain new players.

Old World Quests Should Better Emphasize Storylines

One of the things that has always bothered me about my first experiences playing a human was that the quests never really did justice to the complexity of the human story arc. Consider the depth of Stormwind’s backstory and its place in the world. To fully explain it would take many pages concerning the history of Stormwind and all of Azeroth.

To briefly explain the the current situation, Stormwind and Theramore are the two strongest human nations remaining after the third war. The rest were either destroyed, exist in isolation, or have largely existed in secrecy.

Stormwind and Theramore are often at odds politically. While Theramore is officially considered the leading nation of the Alliance, and hopes to maintain a truce with Orgrimmar, Stormwind sees itself as the leader of the Alliance’s military in the Eastern Kingdoms and uses the military to impose its own political views (this is especially true in Wrath).

Let’s not forget Stormwind’s internal problems. Its exiled artisans have turned into a band of thieves and assassins called the Defias Brotherhood. With much of Stormwind’s armies away on campaigns in the plaguelands, Northrend and elsewhere, the Defias have managed to take control of much of Westfall, Duskwood and Elwynn. This, along with the general plights of all nations throughout Azeroth, has created a need to hire mercenaries, and this is the primary origin story for all human player characters.

Despite the complexity of Stormwind’s situation in the world, however, much of its history and current politics is not made evident in early the human zones. And for the points that are made clear, they could sometimes be better emphasized. For example, it should be better explained that Stormwind itself exists as a nation recently reborn after the second war against the orcs. It should also be explained why the Defias have come about, and further emphasized why you need to oppose them as a mercenary under the command of the Stormwind Guard.

As an example, human players could start in a more robust area, phased to create a “training grounds” for newly hired human mercenaries. Your trainers could explain the reason you’ve been hired, and that you must earn their trust performing domestic missions before tasked with missions abroad as a mercenary of the Alliance. You could be paid for your service, an effort made to rectify the mistakes made in refusing pay to the artisans that have become agents in the Defias.

Redridge Mountains and the Blackrock Menace as an Example of What Can Be Done

Consider the situation in Redridge. With Stormwind’s forces taxed by the world’s troubles, Lakeshire has lost a lot of support. Furthermore, its trade caravans have been ravaged by murlocs and the Blackrock Clan. To complicate matters, the Blackrock orcs encroach upon Lakeshire itself, and have even taken Stonewatch Keep for their own.

While the killing of Gath’Ilzogg and Tharil’zun, the leaders of the Blackrock Clan in Redridge, serve as a fitting end to the Blackrock storyline in Redridge, it would be possible to add even further developments before arriving to this conclusion. For example, Lakeshire could perhaps catch wind of a potential Blackrock offensive against Lakeshire. In preparation for the attack, a player could be given a quest to collect wood and logs for the construction of makeshift barricades, pallisades and ballistae. That player could then be given a quest that teaches them how to use ballistae. Following this, the orcish army could approach and the player would use a ballista to take out orcish catapults, while other mercenaries battle the orcs on the field. Phasing could be used for this quest so only those defending Lakeshire would see the makeshift defenses and the attacking orcs. Anyone passing through or doing the earlier quests would not be interrupted.

This small questline would then lead to a retaliation by the humans of Lakeshire, which ultimately results in the killing of Gath’Ilzogg and Tharil’zun in Stonewatch Keep. This would better emphasize Lakeshire’s struggle and success in the face of having been forsaken by Stormwind, as well as the Blackrock Clan’s role in Redridge.

It would also provide some supplemental quests needed to help streamline people’s progression through specific zones.

The Argument for Renovation and How to Approach It

I’ve alluded and briefly mentioned the dangers behind renovation. I wouldn’t want the revamping of old world leveling content to halt the development of new and fresh zones and instances. Blizzard must maintain a healthy pace of new content production for it to retain its older players. But I also believe reworking and adding to some the older content would benefit the game and its players in the long-term.

Given how quickly quests and the general gameplay mechanics of WoW are advancing, the renovated content would be much more exciting than what the classic outdoor world currently has to offer. This could lead to the retainment of more new players, meaning guilds would have a larger pool of players from which to recruit.

Unfortunately, however, it’s a fine line to draw. So I believe it should be designated as a “side project” to develop alongside entirely new content. Also, to include both new and old players, perhaps some of the renovated content could be rewarding for both capped and new players.

Everything considered, I think it’s time Blizzard does something to improve one of WoW’s biggest remaining problems.