Kicking a Dead Horse: Expansions Should be Stand-Alone Games (WoW’s “Hero Classes” proves my point)

Although this may be common sense to a lot of you, I just figured out my problem with joining new MMOs after they’ve had time to become well established. Expansions are just a re-release of the original game in a much smaller setting. Because it’s easy to use I’ll pick on WoW, but lots of MMOs have this problem.

In WoW: The Burning Crusade once you stepped through the Dark Portal your chances of ever returning to Kalimdor or Azeroth are little to none. The entire world is now completely new because the new content is the only content that means anything anymore. This is pretty fun, my old character in a brand new world! The problem comes in with new players, who have to solo through all of the old content (usually 50 levels for the first expansion, WoW is on 70 levels of “old” stuff though) to reach the populated zones and instances that people are actually playing in.

We’ve all seen it, there’s no use denying it, the old world empties out after an expansion. This is actually 100% okay if everyone is close enough in level (58 in WoW) to access the new content (with respect to The Burning Crusade) but there are inevitably people who are behind. Even if they’re not playing to level swiftly they will have even LESS opportunity than normal to experience any kind of grouping before they’ve “caught up” with everyone else.

Joining the MMO, however, becomes very problematic. I would love to go back to EQ and piddle around with the raiding frenzy it’s become, but there’s NO way I an catch up- it’s just too much to grind alone! (not to mention soloing is pretty hard, even if I were willing). The response is shortening the pre-expansion levels because developers know that if new players (or just new characters) have to do the old grind from 1-60 alone when no one is around it will become a significant deterrent to continued play (and pay! :D).

Hero class(es… but not yet) in WoW prove my point. With the exception that you are only rewarded with the ability to play the class after reaching a certain level (basically playing through most of the original content), the consequences of starting at level 55 let the player effectively skip the entire original game to help them catch up faster. They could make Deathknights make that slow progression up, but who wants to waste their time doing that when you could start at 55!?

I’m not saying they shouldn’t do what they’re doing with hero classes, but maybe they should just drop the fancy name and call it “just another class” and make every class start at 55 regardless. That would let everyone experience the new game together (although now I suppose it would have to be level 65 to work like that) because that’s what an expansion really is. As far as the capped players are concerned when an expansion comes out the previous world ceases to exist except as a vehicle to revist some nostalgic locations and grind up more characters to the new game.


9 Responses to “Kicking a Dead Horse: Expansions Should be Stand-Alone Games (WoW’s “Hero Classes” proves my point)”

  1. Longasc Says:

    Do you know Guild Wars from ArenaNet? They did that. Standalone GW expansions. There was still benefit to having them all, access to skills and features from all campaigns.

    Every expansion had its own new continent, the last expansion played on the same map as the first game, but you could not reach the “southern” part of the world till you bought the first Guild Wars, “Prophecies”.

  2. Tesh Says:

    I was going to mention GW also.

    I think this is a natural problem with level based games. Even within an “expansion” or even the core game, people are already segregated by level (time invested), rather than playing together. On the one hand, that’s OK if you’re in the bulk of the adoption curve, but at the tail end, yes, it makes for a lonely world.

  3. jedioftheshire Says:

    Definitey Tesh. When EverQuest reached the point where newbie zones were unoccupied is when it lost its magic for me. I’ve reached a point where the end-game craze is making me unable to enjoy MMOs anymore. I’m hoping I can get into Darkfall and that it doesn’t disappoint- but I’m definitely learning that you need to get in before expansions are released to enjoy the game to its full capacity. (Of course you might not mind the soloing Tesh, but I most certainly do)

    I like the sound of what GW has done, but I played it a while back and couldn’t get into it. I think I may just stick to my strategy games for a bit, Age of Wonders: Shadowmagic I’ve come back to you!

  4. Longasc Says:

    GW has become quite a solo farming this or that faction world. A pity, as the game was marketed as grind free. The optional endgame is optional grind. Oh, Jesus. 😦

    I wonder if Tesh has a different experience. I played GW from release, he started later. I think he can still enjoy the game to the fullest, while I am an old and bored veteran. But hey, from late April 2005 to early 2008 with only little breaks is quite a feat and a lot of bang for the buck. I am definitely looking forward to GW2, unfortunately scheduled for 2010/11 and future ArenaNet games.

  5. Longasc Says:

    BTW, Jedi, try King’s Bounty: The Legend. It is a bit like Heroes of Might and Magic III, I like it even better than IV and V and maybe even Heroes 3 as well! 🙂

  6. jedioftheshire Says:

    I’ve checked it out before, but I was kind of confused about what genre it belonged to so I didn’t check any further. I’m going to drop the 30 bucks now though and see if it’s any good. Your word +‘s review have convinced me it might be worth that much.

  7. Tesh Says:

    I’ve had a good time with GW, playing by myself or with a “RL” friend and/or my wife. Of course, I do also have a good time solo.

    I deeply appreciate how GW is something I can dig into and have fun without grind. There’s a lot of optional grind for titles, but I feel no compunction to run that maze. I just play the game, see the sights, see the story, and have fun. If I were at the “endgame”, I’d probably be burned out, too, and just leave. I don’t feel a real need to stick with a game that I’ve “played through”.

    Then again, my MMO style is definitely solo/casual/small group, so I don’t really suffer for having low population. 😉

    That said, I’ve run into some kind players in GW (and one scammer). There are usually people around willing to help a noob or do a run to some obscure endgame town.

    • Tesh Says:

      Oh, and I definitely think that the lack of a subscription fee means that I can have a much more casual relationship with GW. As it happens, that’s the only sort of game relationship I can have, so GW gets my money while the others don’t.

      Now, if there were another game doing the GW monetization program, there might be some hard decisions being made around here when it comes to playing… but I’d still probably pay for both. (And in fact, I’ve done just that to a smaller degree with Wizard101… but it’s linear, not “standalone city” design.)

  8. nugget Says:

    GW! I shall chase Longasc around spamming about GW! *lol*

    This is your fault I believe you referred me to a post on this blog somewhere…

    Tesh & Longasc:
    About the ‘endgame’ of GW being faction and grind… I think in a sense, it depends on what you’re looking for.

    Like Tesh, I have no burning desire to grind for titles. Well… that’s not really true. I probably will eventually capture every elite skill there is on at least one character, because I WANT ALL THE SHINY FLAVOURS OF POKEMON! Ahem. XD

    But then, I’d do that even if there weren’t any titles associated with it.

    ~_o getting the sweet tooth title maxxed just for the sake of having some words under my name… nope. Not my cup of tea.

    I think the key for me is that almost all of GW’s grindy title stuff does not have any huge effect on gameplay. The factions PvE skills, and EoTN ones too, do break this rule, but by and large, the game is not designed around grinding = gaming power… and I really love that.

    EotN was for me, the most disappointing part of GW to be honest. When I first picked up prophecies, then the other two continents/chapters, one of the things I was raving to my friends about was how the title tracks/etc that granting extra gaming power were tied to the account and NOT the character. This really, really impressed me, since it was an extension of one of the things about GW that really grabs me – freedom. GW let’s me play what I want, when I want, with a great deal more flexibility than many of the systems I’ve played.

    (I’ve been gaming since I was 6. XD I think my first game was… actually I don’t remember what it was called. but it had a wizard flying around and it was on an ?atari?). Ok ok that isn’t very informative. But um. I remember Below the Root, Boulderdash, AlleyCat, QBert and Revenge of Montezuma!

    Anyway, back to GW. I really loved/love how in the separate chapters themselves, any gaming advantage you have gained through grind is tied to the account, not to the character. This, to me, shows a real respect for the way customers choose to spend their time. Maybe it comes from being nonsubscription, so there isn’t the temptation to say… but if we block it off by character, they will make more alts, and play for longer and pay us more money! XD

    While a lot of the people in my alliance are farming most of the time, they are chatty and friendly on the whole. It really lacks a lot of the competitive drama I had a string of bad experiences with in WoW – especially considering alliances are much bigger than my WoW guilds. Somehow it seems when you don’t have to shove someone else aside to have a chance to get YOUR carrot… people become nicer.

    However, I have noticed a rather huge disparity between the ‘nubs’ (like me!) and the veterans. Namely, ‘in-game’ as it were, other than advice on specific things, we have absolutely nothing to talk about. Unless you count silly nugget conversation and weirdness. Now silly conversation in general and weirdness is great, but the lack of ‘in-game discussion’ currency between old and new players is kind of sad. It’s not specific to GW though, TBH I believe any online game-based society that has a definite slant towards player skill suffers from this. While I still played LegendMUD, I saw it myself – with me being on the oldbie-veteran end.

    I actually wrote about that in passing in an article. I’ll just quote the relevant bit here.

    “Do not bank on becoming friends with your newbie. It is quite difficult in this situation because you are filling the role of a mentor. Friendship is possible and indeed more likely later on when the newbie has become an experienced player. However, it is (sadly for you) probably more fun for the newbie to play with its level while having you as a backup source for help if needed. And by ‘level’ I don’t mean just the hard-coded one, but also the level of mastery of your MUD in general.”

    The ‘can’t play with my friends because they have outlevelled me and are running around somewhere else’ is easy to see when you have many many actual levels… but it still happens even when you have a smaller number of levels – if your game does, indeed, have that rare balance between grind-given gaming power and the power of experience-skill.

    I guess I just wanted to point that out since it seems like one of those things that’s easy to miss.

    (Oh noes, I’ve done it again, I’ve spammed up another blog wif more GW! XD)

    In my defence, I post and chatter so horribly much about GW because it’s I think… one of the only games I’ve loved as much as I loved/love LegendMUD – and I no longer even play on LegendMUD. And I love it because simply playing it has let me see new ways to approach so many design problems, that I never even realised could be solved in another way.

    …I shall cease.

    …for now… AIE!

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