Monday, April 25, 2011

Revamping the Hero class: A better alternative than free max level characters

Spinks recently covered the interesting topic of providing veteran MMORPG players max level characters. On its face, this seems to make a lot of sense. There are certainly two games, at least in WoW, 1.) level grind and 2.) max level, instance-based gear chases. You might separate a third, guild-based, end-game raiding. I, like many who live in 2), would like to be able to play the second with characters I haven't been forced to take through the first.

But *POOF* max level chars seem an ill-thought out money-grab (see UO's advanced characters). Hero classes, or even just plain heroes (high level chars from the start) in conventional classes with their own quick intro quest lines -- combined with alternative and/or class-specific, sped-up quest progressions through old content -- is a better way to go.

So, for instance, our guild needs another tank, and I started a Death Knight this month because I can't stand the thought of leveling from scratch. The DK intro zone was great. Good lore, questionable morals, admittedly, but a decent intro to DK specific talents and abilities.

But what if we had needed a healer? Right now, it's, "Hello, level 1." Imagine starting zones for "hero" druids, pallies, warlocks, etc that are like the DK zone. Give folks just enough time to learn some additional lore and basic class playstyles. It's not a bad compromise.

That said, though the DK was an interesting, mostly successful compromise for Wrath, now running a DK through Cat, I can clearly see that the class has obviously lost some of its prime positioning. A DK starting at a level somewhere between 65 and 75 makes more sense now, and to do it, you're only making minor revamps the starting gear and area. Beautious.

As a DK in Outland, however, it's current the same ole same old. I really don't want to run Zangramash again. That's not compelling. At least in Cat I can run the quest chains I skipped while leveling my main. I took him through Hyjal and Therazane and quickly ended up at 85. There's lots of Vashj'ir and the Egyptian-styled zones I never touched, and I'd like to take a look.

These clearly parallel quest chains in Cat were obviously by design. You could leap from one to another, or you could run them twice. Similar is the literal cataclysm's changes to level 1-60 progressions. Both the parallel quests and remade zones are pretty obvious "New Game+" fixes. I've found myself thinking that Cat's forked quest progression approach to New Game+ might be better handled by one that allows DKs (and other classes) a *class-specific* (or even race-specific) alternative route through Outland and other once-and-done content.

And there's a lot of waste in these "New Games". If I've run both forks in Cat, now what? Also, if I just started WoW, I get exactly zero from the cat-impacted starting zones. Are these progressions better? No, not really, my re-experience of levels 1-14 tells me, it's just new. In a sense, the Cat paradigm for remaking 1-60 is wasted time. You give old players a partial excuse to run 1-60 again, once, but new players are still stuck. Overlaying progressions, Choose Your Own Adventure style, make more sense. Putting the 1-60 revamp work into new 70-80 hero quest lines cut by class and/or race would have been a better use of time.

The heirlooms (and access to gear via shared account gold) sorta provide a Rich Man's alternate to the old grinds, but only in that they make the progressions shorter and share the same logic as instant max level chars. That is, a max level char would skirt the issue completely/take heirlooms to their obvious endpoint. Spinks' comment that, "it's certainly easier than revamping the entire lower level game," is a heck of an understatement, and lets games off too easily. There are better solutions than giving max levels to everyone that allows them to completely skip the often single-player, PvE learning experience.

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