Shadowlands Alt Leveling is Bad
It is difficult to say with any sort of conviction, but I’m strongly leaning towards the Shadowlands alt leveling experience being the worse it’s ever been in any expansion.
The normal leveling experience in Shadowlands is certainly the most on-rails I can recall, perhaps in the history of WoW. You go through the Maw tutorial and head into Kyrianland, which just happens to be the least interesting of the afterlives. And the actual quest content and layout in Bastion is horrible. There are long stretches of time in which you are far from an Inn or mailbox or flightpath. Want to take a break after 30 minutes? Better hearth back to wherever and then plan on spending 5 minutes riding back to whatever quest you were on. Or just buckling down and spending the extra 15 minutes to finish the quest chain in that area.
For as bad as Hellfire Peninsula was back in TBC, you at least had the ability to skip certain hubs and go to others. Once I figured out that hitting level 62 opened up the questing Christmas trees in Zangarmarsh, you bet your ass I was hoofing it out of Hellfire. No such skipping in Shadowlands. Do every quest in order, every time. Oh, and if you’re not level 53 by the time you get to Elysian Hold, go do some sidequests or pick some herbs until you are.
And can I just say something that I don’t feel enough people have complained about yet? The gearing situation is shit while leveling. Every single expansion I can remember had you immediately kitting out in expansion-reasonable questing gear within the first 30 minutes. That leads to casual raider tears when yesterday’s epics were replaced with greens, but it’s a necessary evil. Because it’s an incredibly dumb, unnecessary evil for my toons to still be rocking ilevel 58 shoulders throughout the entire fucking zone when 87-100 is the baseline.
What could be worse than all that? Threads of Fate.
On its face, Threads of Fate sounds like an incredible innovation. NPC meets your alt immediately outside of the Maw tutorial, and you unlock all the zones to complete in any order. What they neglect to mention is that “complete” means “grinding mobs like in a 1990s MMO.” Some of the Bonus Objective areas literally give you 1% completion per mob kill. “Just don’t do those.” Sure, let me just ride around this entire zone with only three flightpaths unlocked while trying to complete the same World Quests I’ll be grinding at endgame for the next two years. Oh, and they give 12k XP, same as each of the dozen story quests you could do in the same amount of time.
In many ways, Legion was considered the worst expansion for alts due to the way Artifacts (and AP) were spec-specific on top of the RNG of Legendaries. What is mentioned less in that calculus is how all the zones were available from the start and each class had engaging class-specific story content on the way up. With Shadowlands, everybody has the exact same story and quests in the same order until endgame, and then everybody is grinding Torghast for their Legendary, on every character.
There’s some Kyrian NPC who mentions that the Path is grinding Aspirants into dust. You’d think I’d remember his name after seeing it ten times but whatever. That’s what leveling feels like: being ground into dust. My character roster is 60, 60, 57, 54, 53, 52, 52, 52, 51, 51. I kept thinking maybe a different class would make leveling more enjoyable. But that’s when I realized that it wasn’t the class that was the problem, it was the rote, banal, awful design of Bastion through which all characters must pass. Well, that, or level 4x slower by chain-killing mobs inside a yellow shape on your mini-map. Engaging!
No escape in BGs either. Winning a 15-min match gives you… 12k XP. Once per day. Then it’s half that every other time, for a win. Not particularly reliable when you queue as Alliance.
I have never been more discouraged trying to level alts in an expansion than Shadowlands.
What would fix it? There is no fixing of the on-rails story portion, which wasn’t that bad the first time. It really comes down to Threads of Fate and fixing the jank there. Take the only page out of the Jay Wilson handbook and just double everything. World Quests give 24k XP, Bonus Objectives complete twice as fast for 16k XP, and the overall zone meter gives 1.5 levels. I am not even sure that this doubling would result in things being faster than mindlessly grinding the story quests, but at least it would be closer. And what exactly would the point of Threads of Fate be if it was slower than just doing the story again? I think you get a whole 4 extra Renown that you wouldn’t have, for all the good that does an alt facing down the barrel of 10-20 hours of Torghast and Maw busywork.
I forgive you for wondering whether I just don’t like leveling anymore. Thing is, I would take all my characters through Maldraxxus again in a heartbeat. I want to start over there. The Theater of Pain is where the actual Shadowlands experience begins, IMO. But you have to drag your face through four levels of Bastion broken glass to get there. Every. Single. Time.
I hope that this leveling setup is an experiment that Blizzard never tries again.
Missing Anything from the Other Side?
One of the little WoW goals I had been thinking about doing was leveling a character on the other faction. The last time I had characters on multiple factions in any serious way was back in Wrath. At the time, I do vaguely recall there being some worthwhile differences in questing and general lore. For example, I remember it being a cool experience bringing the Taunka into the Horde fold and seeing that process. Also, I think there was something way different with Horde Death Knights compared to the Alliance experience.
Having said that, I don’t want to go too crazy here. My Horde toon would be completely divorced from my Alliance gold/material stockpile and otherwise have to rough it through life. I have done the beginning experiences of WoD and Mists on Horde but nothing further than maybe two dozen quests.
So… think there’s something worth seeing on the other side? I’m sure 90% of it is the same crap regardless, but if I’m going to do something silly like unlock Vulperas or something, I may as well check out a new (to me) zone along the way.
Legion Thoughts, follow-up
[Blaugust Day 8]
As pointed out by MaximGtB in the comments yesterday, there is a follow-up interview from Blizzard that answers some more questions, including the weapon one:
You obtain your Artifact early on in the Legion experience. This is the weapon you will use throughout the expansion. You will not get weapon drops in Legion. Something that wasn’t mentioned during the reveal is that each Artifact has a number of Relic slots, which will determine its raw item stats (DPS, ilvl, etc.) and modifiers to the traits you’ve chosen, so the Artifact’s stats will still improve as you defeat bosses.
This almost raises more questions than answers, honestly. Will these relics be like class armor tokens, e.g. a raid boss dropping the equivalent of a +Spirit relic that the healers roll on? Will the loot system be further taken over by Personal Loot instead?
Of course, there is also an elephant in the room: what about alts? Hell, what about off-specs?
If the Artifact system is the heart of the next expansion – and there is every reason to believe that it is intended to be – shit starts getting a bit ridiculous. If you are a DPS and a tank, are you going to be walking around with two Artifacts? Clearly yes, right? It wouldn’t make much sense for the Artifacts to share progression, so… do you need to split your Artifact Power? Relics? If we get Artifact Power from questing, does that mean someone can get screwed by funneling the Power into the spec they don’t end up being by the end of the level cap? What about healers who level as DPS?
I’m actually starting to wonder if the Artifacts won’t as big a deal as I’m thinking they’re supposed to be. By which I mean, the whole Artifact progression system is standing in for the leveling bonuses we got from hitting even-numbered levels in Warlords. Considering that classes are being redesigned again (melee hunters!), I’m not sure we would even notice the ability shuffle on top of the goodies the Artifact provides.
Anyway, while they’re mucking around with abilities, here’s to hoping that Ion and crew finally realize that making rotations boring on purpose is a really dumb idea.
The 4th Faction
One of the perennial hot topics on the PlanetSide 2 Reddit forums are concerns over the “4th Faction” and how to handle the issues that arise from it. So, let’s go ahead and talk about this issue.
Broadly defined, players of the 4th Faction in PlanetSide 2 are the people who have no particular loyalty to any one of the game’s three factions, and instead choose whichever side has the highest chance of winning. Some definitions of the 4th Faction term specifically reference the players who switch to an alt character in the final moments of an Alert, in order to get a higher Cert award. Other definitions include “spy” characters who will switch factions mid-battle to sabotage the efforts of their opponents via friendly fire. Still other definitions are so broad to encompass anyone who has an alt of another faction, even if that alt is on another server entirely.
So, already you can see that there is a serious problem with defining what a 4th Factioneer consists of, let alone how to tackle the issue (assuming one exists). And yet, by far, the most popular response is somewhat rudimentary: nuke it from orbit logging onto one Faction automatically locks your other Faction characters for 12 (or more) hours.
Apparently this was how the situation was handled in the original PlanetSide, and some feel it would work in this game too. Others are a bit more charitable and suggest the faction-lock should only trigger if you leave the warp gate. After all, SOE gives free daily Certs to each character you log onto, so a log-on trigger would prevent you from claiming these Certs. Others think a 3 minute timer would be sufficient. Still others believe you shouldn’t be able to roll different-faction alts altogether, or at least on the same server. Nevermind if SOE merged your server, or you are Australian and only have a single server on the correct side of the Pacific Ocean.
If I have not been overt enough with my tone, allow me to be explicit: the 4th Faction is a problem that cannot be solved. It can be mitigated somewhat with better incentives, but all of the proposals I have seen (including faction-locking) thus far have been terrible design.
Let us all face reality here: nobody likes to lose. But the more salient point is that you cannot force someone to stick around to lose. At any moment a player can simply log off, hit Alt-F4, or unplug his/her computer from the wall. While games like EVE/Darfall can have your character remain attackable for X amount of time even after a ragequit, the point is that that player has already given up. Although I have not played League of Legends, I have heard about their anti-quitting penalties. Which, again, doesn’t really solve the problem of “motivating” a player to not have (mentally) conceded an obvious loss.
Many of the 4th Faction sob stories revolve around the curious population effect once an Alert starts winding down. Teams will be an even 33%/33%/33% for the first 1.5 hours, but in the final act the numbers start reading 50%/30%/20% or similar. “Those traitors are switching!” the forum warriors cry. Except… that’s not how it works. Each faction has a population cap per continent. You cannot go from, say, a 333 person split to 500/300/200, because 333 is the limit for your faction. While it is certainly possible for someone to switch to their winning-faction alt in the final moments, it’s only possible because there were empty seats.
And even if it were impossible to switch (via faction-locking), what difference does it make? The entire premise of the argument is that the person in question is on the losing side. The point at which they decided to switch characters is the point at which they gave up. They still would have given up if they could not switch. Switching characters at that point is indistinguishable from them simply logging off altogether or simply being AFK at the Warp Gate.
The fantasy that being “forced” to stay on your character will create the opportunity for a come-from-behind victory is exactly that: a fantasy. It might happen when the stars align and the angels sing, but it will never be due to random players banding together, but rather the concerted effort of Outfits – players who would not be switching to their alts anyway.
What are some solutions? Like I said before, we cannot “solve” the issue, but we can mitigate it. Here is an easy one: stop making Alerts grant 30, 40, 50 Certs for simply being online at the 00:01 second mark. Sometimes I will be online at 11pm and a 2-hour Alert will pop up, which means I can only really play part of it. While the Alert will grant a blanket 20% XP increase for everyone for the duration, why is it that I can play 99% of it and then lose the bonus Certs by having to go to sleep? The current design is dumb at both ends of the spectrum, and actually encourages people to switch characters (since they get the full reward whether they played 2 hours or 2 seconds).
Perhaps it would be too resource-intensive to track individual participation in an Alert. In which case, here is another solution: a steady trickle of rewards. Instead of 20% bonus XP throughout and 10,000 XP at the very end, how about 20% bonus XP and +50 XP every 5 minutes you are logged on? Or, hell, to reward the more “loyal” players, make the reward ramp up the longer you stay logged onto that character during the Alert. Something like +25 XP every 5 minutes, which doubles every half hour – if you stay for the entire Alert, towards the end you would be getting +200 XP every 5 minutes plus whatever you earn on the field. Change the final reward to something like 50% more XP/Resource generation for the next X hours, to incentivize winning (if necessary).
Will this solve server/faction imbalances? Sadly, no. If you are not VS on Matterson, you are probably getting farmed; other servers have similar scenarios with different faction names. You cannot force someone to pick the losing team. Not only that, but anyone who complains about the imbalance already implicitly gives voice to desire that sustains it. “It sucks being TR on Matterson.” Yes, I’m sure it does. Just like it sucks being outnumbered anywhere else. Stick with the miserable situation long enough, and it would be perfectly rational to quit or transfer… which is exactly what 4th Factioneers (proactively) do.
Am I 4th Factioning? By some definitions, yes. I created a character of each faction, on three different servers that I researched ahead of time to be the home of large Outfits. After server merges, my NC alt was moved to Matterson (home of my VS main). I basically stick with VS until I get the desire to use the Phoenix (camera-guided rocket launcher) or the desire to ruin people’s days with the Striker (OP and annoying lock-on rocket launcher). Indeed, for the longest time I started to think I would just give up on VS altogether, considering that the Lasher/Lancer was not nearly fun enough to justify the faction. Then, well, the ZOE happened. ¹
But here’s the thing. I find it completely ridiculous to buy into the whole “faction pride” angle when you are presented with fairly unique, faction-specific experiences. You are, in a sense, voluntarily avoiding the other two-thirds of the game. Granted, the empire-specifics weapons other than the rocket launchers are really just minor variations, so maybe not an entire two-thirds. My point still stands: the loyalty is largely arbitrary self-flagellation.
While even-fights and faction parity is a perfectly understandable, legitimate desire, so is the desire to not experience demoralizing losses or be stuck on dead-end servers/factions. And even in a perfectly balanced scenario, you are still going to lose two out of three games. Ergo, the best thing we can do is give consolation prizes to the losing side and hope there are a perfectly symmetrical amount of stubborn underdog-fans for, well, ever.
¹ And it’s getting nerfed, of course.
I hit 90 last week on the paladin.
The funny thing is that the reputation concession to alts (i.e. 100% rep gains if you buy a token at Revered) has resulted in some strange behavior on my part. I still don’t like the paladin very much; I chose it as my first 90 because of other considerations, like how it was my only toon with max Archeology (mainly the BoA weapons). Combat as Retribution still feels clunky, especially if I miss with Crusader Strike. Exorcism, Judgment, Crusader Strike, then either Inquisition or Templar’s Verdict, then… wait for procs. Having a 6-second window to Flash of Light after a mob death is infinitely worse than a warrior’s intuitive and satisfying Impending Victory.
Regardless, since I am 90 though, I find myself doing all the dailies that I can. Not just because they are dailies, e.g. the sense that I fall further behind in my future, hypothetical endeavors, but also because I am already near Honored (or well into Honored) with these factions. It feels a waste to start leveling someone else up before getting the 100% rep boost. And thus I continue playing a class I no longer love, earning rewards I can’t use (Coins, Valor, Spirits of Harmony), for the possible betterment of a new main I haven’t even chosen yet.
Obviously I’m getting some form of entertainment, but it is not at the desired level.
On Sunday, I ran ~4 heroics with guildmates and walked out with 8-10 pieces of gear; I zoned in there with maybe two pieces of 450 quest blues and the rest crafted PvP gear. Ended up getting two Strength 2Hs, boots, chest, plus a smattering of tanking drops. As far as I could tell, my DPS on the runs was just shy of 40k, which I am assuming is decent.
Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. In which case, let me tell the universe: make Retribution more fun.