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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.

WoW: End of 2nd Month

Things have been interesting these past two months.

Druid

My druid was the first to hit level 60 in Shadowlands and the one I got furthest on in terms of Renown and Torghast. I have been Guardian the entire time, as I have not liked Balance while leveling and Feral is just annoying having to heal up after every encounter. 

I sorta came to a hard stopping point with the Druid after a few weeks when I realized what the endgame means. For one thing, I’m trapped. I don’t want to tank dungeons but all of my gear is Agility-based. World Quests are giving me straight garbage Agility pieces even though I switched my loot specialization to Resto. I am interested in doing Raid Finder, but you need a 170 gearscore to even queue, and I’m barely pushing 155. If I want to PvP, it’s going to be as Boomkin or Resto, which again, I don’t have gear for.

Technically I could spend a few grand on the AH buying crafted gear or something, and then muddling through PvP to get Honor gear and hoping that crafting a Legendary will get me over the gearscore hump. But as always, the first hump is unnecessarily difficult, IMO. I remember early BFA where it was a challenge to get past the War Front gearscore wall, but once you were in, epics rained from the sky for zero effort and thereafter you had no issue qualifying for the rest of the expansion.

Kyrian Covenant

I have chosen the Kyrian Covenant because that was supposed to be the best for Druids, but it’s boring. Boring ability, boring quests thus far, and a boring, broken Mission Table experience. 

Seriously, the fact that it has been this long without a fix to the Mission table experience with Kyrians (and Venthyr, so I’ve heard) is just embarrassing. Basically, the champions and normal troops are just garbage who cannot defeat the level 20 elite Soul Ash mission even when they are level 25. Meanwhile, Maldraxxus and Night Fae have basic troops that can defeat 10+ levels above themselves, no champion required. 

I get that Mission Tables are less of a focus of the endgame experience this time around, but… really? The WoW Companion app revolves entirely around the Mission Table, and it sucks that I lose out on potential bonuses because Blizzard is bad at balance and worse at fixing their mistakes.

Warlock

I hit 60 on my Warlock a few weeks ago. This toon’s purpose was primarily to PvP in battlegrounds for fun, but the results have been… uneven. I played BGs pretty much nonstop from levels 55-58, but stopped when I was capping out on Honor. I’m not sure why Blizzard made it impossible to pre-purchase level 60 PvP gear, but it forced me into Threads of Fate and back to questing.

Hitting 60 and immediately getting full gear in every slot was rather refreshing. I even had several thousand Honor left over. The design appears to be for the base-level gear to be cheap, and then you upgrade individual pieces up a few ilevels at a time via ever-increasing Honor costs. It also appears you need to hit certain Renown levels with your Covenant to unlock the higher ilevel caps. 

But like I said earlier, the Warlock isn’t all that fun to play even with decent gear. The missing piece of the puzzle may be the Legendary, which requires Torghast runs. For Affliction Warlocks, one Legendary has Corruption deal more damage and adds a 50% snare on top. With the Absolute Corruption talent, that means you can toss out Corruptions that last 24 seconds on players and snare them the whole time. That may be worth the fun even if I get blown up with zero recourse once melee closes the gap.

Night Fae Covenant

I chose Night Fae for the Warlock because it was the best-ranked, and plus it was different from the other I had picked. The Covenant story was unexpectedly poignant so far. I definitely recommend people to at least roll an alt through the Night Fae so they can see the mock play scenario where a history of Azeroth is run through. The crowd’s reaction is hilarious, and [redacted]’s shock at the events throughout is a little sad considering you know the news is about to get worse.

Alts and Boosts

I had two character boosts in my back-pocket for a few years now, one from BFA and another from… maybe Legion? They had been converted by the level squish into an instant level 48 toon. I have been holding onto them for a while for if I ever got sucked into a social situation in which I wanted to play on a different server. Then the thinking was that I would use it on the Horde side eventually.

Well, I spent both of them to create a Mage and Shaman. Despite having a decently high-ish level Mage & Shaman on my original Auchindoun-US server.

The Mage was almost an instant-regret situation. I did play with my old Mage for a few hours through WoD (the go-to fastest leveling place post-squish) and it was a blast as Fire. Mobs falling left and right. Level 48 Fire Mage forced into Shadowlands content right away? Not so much. Hit level 52 and was generous with some crafted gear and it still felt bad. Tried Frost and Arcane, and the latter was the closest to fun I could get. 

I thought about BGing with the Mage like I did with the Warlock, but it was around this time that I realized that level-scaling in BGs was actually removed in Shadowlands. When you join a match, your level will say something like 52 (59) and everyone else shows 59 around you, so I had been like “cool, let’s level via BGs.” It’s just a lie to cover for lowbies not being targeted/called out. You really are level 52 with crap gear being matched against actual level 59s with higher gear and possibly people with Covenant abilities (via Threads of Fate). This suddenly explained why my Shadow Priest was struggling to affect any team fight whatsoever in BGs despite DoTing up the entire team. Or possibly Shadow Priests just suck in BGs like Affliction Warlocks.

The Shaman boost was on purpose though, and I’m enjoying it. I have a fondness for Shaman considering it was my first serious alt after my namesake Paladin, and Shaman in general have come a long way since TBC. Elemental is decent even if it hasn’t really changed all that much from Lava Burst and Lightning Bolt spam. Based on some BG videos, I’m excited to try Elemental in PvP and then fall back on Resto if it comes to that.

The only two classes I don’t have at this point are Warrior or Hunter. I have one apiece back on Auchindoun-US, but it’s tough to justify spending time leveling them on a server with considerably less resources (including crafter alts to gear them). I suppose server transfers are cheaper than level boosts, but at some point I have to recognize the fact that my WoW days (in this expansion) are numbered.

Unprepared

I am not prepared for Shadowlands.

Given how I only restarted playing WoW on a whim after a two year lapse, it is debatable how prepared I should be at this point. And yet I have been playing daily since then. Know what I have been doing? Perhaps leveling up on the Horde side? Leveling my characters to 50? Deciding on which character is my (new) main?

Nope. I was working on unlocking flying in BfA. Because that’s a priority… for some reason.

Like so many things, I started with good intentions. I created a Horde druid to experience BfA from the other side and to unlock Vulpera eventually. Thing is, the lack of mobility is a huge drag, especially with the way the main Horde hub is set up. Since I was on a new server, I did not have spare gold to even purchase Goblin Glider kits. “This would be a better experience with flying.” So off I went back to the Alliance Demon Hunter, the only level 50 I had.

In fairness, I did get at least two other classes to 50 in the meantime. But most of my playtime has been emptying banks full of outdated crafting material at bargain-basement prices and doing Tortollan and Champion of Azeroth dailies, as I did two years ago. I think the fact that all the necessary reps were already into Honored territory lulled me in a false sense of security that I could achieve the Achievement in a reasonable amount of time. Which I did!

…Pathfinder Part 1, anyway.

Alas, even though Blizzard’s philosophy has changed in Shadowlands, they decided not to drop reputation requirements to BfA flying. At least, not yet. So after spending a few weeks grinding one set of reputations, I unlocked the need to grind two more, right before the release of an expansion that makes it all moot anyway. All for what? The ease to experience quest text at slightly faster pace? I try to optimize many things in the course of playing videogames, but I recognize that sometimes it spins me off in absurd directions.

Or perhaps I was just subconsciously rebelling against the fundamental task. I am referring to experiencing the Horde side of things, but it might very well be playing an MMO casually at all. Think about how many polished single-player games I could have experienced in that same amount of time.

On the other hand, IRL work has picked up significantly and sometimes I just want to turn my mind off and plow through some meaningless but achievable, repetitive tasks. And there ain’t many things better than WoW for those.

Also, I’ll be paying for Shadowlands and another two months of gametime (if necessary) exclusively via WoW Tokens. There really isn’t a better time to make bank than the release of a new expansion, so I kinda don’t want to miss that. You know, setting up for the expansion after this one.

The Return, part 54846

Mere days after I derided FFXIV for offering four days of free play, Blizzard offered the same thing… and I took it. Looking at my payment history, it appears that it had been almost exactly two years since I last had a subscription.

The returning WoW experience was a bit jarring, to say the least.

The shoulderpads get bigger every year

The level squish resulted in a roster of level 45s. At first, I was perturbed, thinking there had been some mistake. Did I not have a bunch of toons at the prior level cap? As it turns out, not so much. In fact, I had just the one Demon Hunter at the cap. Really shows how little I cared for Battle for Azeroth.

So the first order of business was taking my erstwhile Legion main (a druid) from 45 to 50. And I did so… in Redridge Mountains. Such is the power of Chromie Time. On a practical level, it makes every mob scale to your level, and all quest rewards likewise. I have lived through multiple expansion transitions, but seeing white gear with a vendor price of 66g and almost being better than your current equipment in a traditionally beginner zone is something else. I carried on, primarily because War Mode offered a 25% XP bonus and the odds I would encounter Horde in Redridge of all places was quite low.

That finished, I decided to take stock of my stock. And vendored 90% of it. My old goblin self would be spinning in his hypothetical grave, but he’s dead for a reason. I did toss a bunch on the AH and actually walk away with 10,000g, but I’m not about to chase that dragon again. At least, not the degree in which I’m crafting Cataclysm potions and other bizarre crap that somehow still sells on occasion. Flying around TBC zones trying to mine Khorium which sells for 400g+ per ore? That’s a bit more likely. Especially since every resource node is about 1/4th of a quest in terms of XP gain in Chromie Time. You can hardly afford not to, right?

As for other goals… we shall see. The four days have since expired and I could pop the WoW Token sitting in my bags at any time. There is a current pre-expansion event going on, but in looking at the rewards, it doesn’t seem worth much. Certainly nothing like the Wrath events, which offered Haunted Memento, which still sell for tens of thousands of gold all these years later. Capping all of my toons would be a reasonably achievable goal. Aside from that? Maybe unlocking the Allied Races?

I could also just continue doing what I had been doing until I heard about the free trial. Which, admittedly, wasn’t exactly much more than grinding out meaningless shit in other games. I really should be doing anything else.

It’s also been 2020 all fucking year, so maybe I’ll just do whatever I want.