What’s Good About: The New Player Experience in Word of Warcraft
Believe it or not, I actually can sit still long enough to enjoy MMOs. This is because as stated in my post on Doom Eternal, I like to keep track of a lot of different cooldown timers, resources, and abilities; complete with how those abilities fully play into those of other players. The main game that managed to catch my attention in this genre, unsurprisingly, is World of Warcraft. A lot of that has to do with equal parts nostalgia for Warcraft 3 and literal years of my brother trying to get me to play with him outside of the context of just leveling up characters. It’s also worth noting that Blizzard in those intervening years, has done some…how do I put this nicely? Fuckassery? Since then with the whole “banning of Blitzchung, a Chinese Hearthstone player for expressing his support of the Hong Kong Protests that were and still are going on” happened and that decision combined with the then-current expansion, Battle for Azeroth, not being all that great made putting the game down for a while feel like the right decision to make.
I bring this up because I feel like I cannot talk about the subject of the piece in good faith without feeling like I’m being willfully ignorant of the context surrounding Blizzard and its games these days. I also acknowledge that this is also more so a fault with Blizzard’s management and less than on the people on the ground trying to eke out an honest living. Basically what I’m saying is that there’s no ethical consumption Under capitalism and that we should compost the rich. I’m kidding. Mostly.
But no one ever truly quits World of Warcraft, they just take extended breaks until a new expansion is out. And with the new expansion comes a revamped leveling experience and a much more manageable leveling curve. For context: World of Warcraft is, at the time of writing, almost 16 dang years old. The game launched with a level cap of 60. For 7 expansions, that cap climbed to the unwieldy cap of 120. This, combined with the greater focus on the endgame (Mythic Plus Dungeons and Raiding), left the leveling and new player experience to both languish for years. But with the release of the Shadowlands pre-patch, Blizzard has not only done the sensible solution of squishing the level so back down to 50 at the moment (with the new expansion cap being 60), they also created a new starting experience for players looking to properly get into the game.
But before that, I just have to add that World of Warcraft has added WAY more to its character customization than I thought it would get in the year 2020. And I’ll admit for as old as this game’s engine is, I’m still impressed that they went out of their way to add more different appearance options; Humans, in particular, can be of different ethnicities and while it’s not as fleshed out as it could be, the fact that WoW now passes my character creator test of “Can this make a decent looking Black Guy?” is wild to think about and I love it.
The new area/scenario is called Exile’s Reach. You get the option to choose to either go through with that as your starting option or start in your original starting zone, both of which encompass levels 1–10 in the new system. I decided to roll up a Warlock because I’ve never tried one of those and Demonology looked cool enough, so I did that and went with Exile’s Reach to see what’s changed.
The first thing that jumped out at me is that it featured a rather simple but effective tutorial of moving and fighting. It teaches you how to use your main damage dealing abilities and how that will affect your gameplay. It’s a great way to tutorialize WoW’s most basic mechanics and make them make sense for people who’ve never played an MMO before. From there you get shipwrecked and have to find your way off of the Island. The entire zone is framed in the context of looking for a lost Alliance/Horde Expedition and then moving on to gathering said lost expedition members and hatching a plan to get the heck back to your faction’s capital. The game even gives you a quest that shows you learning new abilities to onboard the concept of leveling up and gaining new abilities and skills; the Warlock’s is finding a failed ritual that allows them to summon a Voidwalker, for example. The area and quest chain then culminates in a quick dungeon tutorial that even shows how dungeons are run in a highly controlled environment. It even shows how the new leveling curve functions by allowing the players to get their first mount and riding skills at level 10!
The way I describe Exile’s Reach the same way I would describe the Demon Hunter from Legion when it was first added: It’s essentially what World of Warcraft would be like if the game were released in the last 5 years as opposed to 2004, it’s highly directed, slick and polished to a mirror shine and to goes a long way to help new players get into the game that’s enjoyed by millions. And while I still stick by what I said about Blizzard’s management and their missteps, I appreciate that I have a game that I can have to play idly while talking to friends again. Just be sure to know your limits and not be swayed by free game time. Because that’s how they get you.