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World of Warcraft's Steep Leveling Curve

Posted Sat, Feb 04, 2012 by Saia

Levelling and World of Warcraft go hand in hand,  as it does in many RPGs, MMOs and many other popular genres. But with Mists of Pandaria on the horizon, what does this mean for how we level in Azeroth?  

Levels, XP and Dinging 

When WoW began seven years ago, there were just sixty levels. When Mists of Pandaria releases - hopefully sometime this year - there will be ninety. That’s a massive number, particularly for those planning on rolling Pandaren. A couple of years ago, when Wrath was released, Blizzard tried to give new toons a headstart by introducing Death Knights who began their WoW journey at 55 and hit 60 by the end of their starter area. 

Levelling itself involves gaining experience and, as your level gets higher, so the amount needed to ding increases. Hitting level 85 - the current cap - requires a heck of a lot experience points. 

As you can witness, the later levels take a lot more XP to reach the next level.

However, Blizzard frequently nerfs content just before a new expansion or patch. Sometimes this is the difficulty of the last tier of raid bosses and sometimes it’s how long it takes to go from level x to level y. Since Wrath, Blizzard has been pushing players to the endgame, focusing on the belief that the game begins at 85. The proceeding 84 levels are just there to teach the game mechanics and class roles, both of which become very important when you approach endgame content and raiding. 

The Holy Trinity of Levelling 

Levelling involves the holy trinity of questing, grinding and running instances. Everyone has their own method of doing it; some people just run instances right through until they ding 85, other people just quest until there’s not a single exclamation mark left in a zone and the insane just kill mob after mob after mob, either to level their professions or because they’re newbies. Of course, it can be fun if you’ve never played WoW before but by the second or third alt, the experience can become tedious. 

Yes you can (quite legally) power level your way to the endgame, it takes just a couple of days worth of game time and a lot of dedication but it can be done. At the same time, many players still hanker for a button which will take any additional toons from 0-85 in seconds; sadly the only way to level like this is to recruit a friend and it stops well before the current level cap.  

The other thing you need to remember is that the whole point of the levelling system is to teach you how to play your class. All those skills and abilities, talent points and spells, all those rotations, they have to be learned; that’s why the levelling system exists and it does actually take all these levels to figure out the complexities of maximising your damage, healing or tanking. 

However, as the number of expansions begin to stack up, the amount of levels continues to go up. WoW’s first two expansions added 10 each time, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria just five each. By the end of the decade, we could easily be levelling all the way to three figures. With each expansion, the time you have to put into levelling gets even longer. This is why many players are waiting expectantly as players levelling in the Cataclysm range (levels 80 to 85) are sure to find it easier once Blizzard turns its attention to getting players to Pandaria and heading towards level 90. 

Most of the levels in GW2 will take about the same amount of time to complete from start to finish.

The problem is, I’m not sure just nerfing content and the amount of XP needed to ding is going to cut it. Blizzard needs to look at its rivals for inspiration and then really rethink how the mechanic works. For example, the big contenders for the Warcraft throne, are TERA, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, two of which is scheduled to come out later this year.  

Looking to the Future 

Blizzard is coming up to its eighth birthday. In video gaming terms, that makes it ancient compared to more recently released titles. For example, GW2 will use a balanced approach to each level (each level will take the same amount of time from start to finish) while SWTOR increases the XP for groups.  

Such simple changes could really revolutionise how we play WoW, especially for those people who do dungeons to level. For example, if Blizzard hypothetically decided to adopt a system similar to the one used in SW: TOR, it would be a simple matter of just giving the group a buff which double or tripled the XP earned from running Mogu’Shan Palace or the Stormstout Brewery. They could even make it interesting by giving you more XP if you do the runs with Real ID friends or guildmates. 

How do you think Blizzard should deal with the regular raising of the level cap? Should you be allowed to auto-level additional characters (either for free or for a price)? Let us know in the comments below. 


I agree with the philosophy of learning to play the character. Maybe special quests could prove the capability of using the capabilities of the character and award extra points. More work for developers.

Personally I hate that Blizz is forcing players towards the end game. I have 6 alliance toons and 6 horde toons on 2 servers and have yet to raid, kill the lich king or any of the other end game activities. I have been playing for 5 years and only level my toons as required for my professions. I am a player MUCH more interested in exploring the world than running the same instance over and over to maybe get a mount or armor. Can you spell boring? Been there and got the T-shirt, I do each instance once to get the achievement and look it over and then never go back. I do level but judiciously, I do have several 85's, I have done some battle grounds but think that is mostly a prepubescent boy activity, but there is sooo much to do and see why would I resort to the end game? BORING BORING BORING! (and repetitive!)

Yes! I agree completely. After many toons, I was getting tired of leveling so fast that I had barely done half the quests in a zone before it was time to move on to the next. Sure, I could stay and do the remainder, but there is no challenge when the quests have all turned green then grey. I really enjoy questing, and I enjoy the challenge. I do enjoy dungeons, even the occasional BG, but my WoW heart belongs to questing and exploring the world around me. So I started some fresh toons, and this time I turn off gaining experience when the quests are still yellow and I have about one to one and a half levels left in a zone. I then turn it back on when I have just enough quests left to level up for the next zone. I use the zone questing achievements as my guide to the number of remaining quests. Yes, it's slow going, but it's fun and getting to the "end game" is not the only reason to play WoW.

Hmmm... Blizz will do what works for the game _and_ what makes them the most money if they can possibly justify it. So, I shall forecast *hums and puts her fingers to her temples* Within the next 2 years it will be possible, if you already have a max levelled character (85/90/95/whatever), to pay via your battle.net account a nominal amount (maybe per ten levels?) to level new/lowbie alts. I also think the 1-70 levelling curve will flatten further, perhaps seeing questing alone lift a character by an additional 2-3 levels per zone over what they do now (what is it? 5-6 levels per zone on average now?).

What I'd like? Anything that makes questing through Outland faster... don't know what it is, I really enjoy levelling (altoholic who has maxed out account character limit before) but 1-60 is fun and I enjoy Northrend, but Outland bores me to tears. Maybe it's the sheer length of time I spent at 70 before Wrath. My main did every single damned quest in the game that was available and still ran out of stuff to do and was reduced to doing the Isle of Free Money over and over and over (started too late in the expansion to get into the very, very linear raiding on my server - trying to find people willing to help you run Kara etc over and over to gear you up was a waste of time).

Yep - I know, but they also cater to the most vocal of the players. The raiders and battlegrounders. However, in reality, the casual/solo players out number them, we just don't have time to bitch and moan as we are too busy doing everything else the game has to offer. I hate that the guild goodies, mount etc, have to be tied to guild achievement that include running raids. I have a level 2 (almost 3) guild and the only person in it is me and my alts. I want the mount too! And if I get my guild up to 25 I deserve it!

It would be interesting to see what the times to level per level would look like. Yes there is a huge jump in the xp needed to level, particularly as you shift expansions, but is it really that unbalanced and exponentially shocking?

Without BoE's and guild perks you can level from 1-85 in around 5 days of played time. The latter levels seem slower but the reality of it is that you can at least get a level a night at the end by just questing fairly casually. Sometimes even 2.

I really don't know how they could balance it out or change the system. Perhaps there should be, as in other games, a main quest line that you must follow, with side or flavour quests along the way that you can pick and choose to do that add to your levelling or gear rewards.

Guild wars was a strange system of levelling because you were usually level 20 before you left the first continent and everything seemed to be a grind from then on to get gear to continue grinding for more gear. i hope they fixed that in the latter expansions, but from what I am told they didn't.
I do agree that outland needs some love. I too get bored through there and it is often the spot where my toons stop for quite a while in their quest to reach cap.

I think it would be great if they could come up with a way to add the end game raiding and stuff into the levelling mix so more of the content can be experienced as you go through it rather than soloing it at cap just to get achievements and loot to transmog.

Iono, those who shout loudest are usually the minority, and in this day and age they are pretty much the only ones who are heard above the din of people getting on with their gaming experiences. The silent majority gets missed!

Good points Hunt.

However - your comment: "I think it would be great if they could come up with a way to add the end game raiding and stuff into the levelling mix so more of the content can be experienced as you go through it rather than soloing it at cap just to get achievements and loot to transmog"

That would only aggravate the plight of the solo player - now you can't cap out unless you play with other people. Can't get a mount, can't get guild achievements, etc etc because you just want want to play when and how you can and not with others. Sigh, remember the days of compute games where you finished them all by yourself?

Yeah I agree it would make it hard for the true soloist. Maybe a Guild Wars style AI henchmen option?

Also I should have clarified a little what I meant by "end game". I was actually thinking of all the previous end game stuff from the old expansions. That stuff mostly gets left out I believe. Not so much the new content we currently devour at a rapacious rate.

Yes I grew up in the time before the internet was common to be on and access was limited to academic institutions or the government. I miss games that you had to work out all by yourself. Remember the thrill of beating that final encounter? Ahh I am old ;)

Probably not as old as me :) I played ZORK on a Commodore 64 with a cassette drive!

I am guessing similar :) Hitchhikers Guide on Apple IIc :D, Oh and remember the old Tandy TRS80?

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