My WoW Clone: Level Cap (Part 2)

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!

Previously on My WoW Clone, I left a steaming pile of crap on the doorstep of World of Warcraft while explaining my disdain for level cap increases in MMORPGs. I didn’t plan for that, but it happened as I was trying to build up to the topic I wanted to discuss. Since I have let most of the vitriol out of my system, I can move forward with the topic at hand. Today, I will be discussing how My WoW Clone would handle a level cap differently from World of Warcraft and its clones. It may surprise you to learn, especially after the previous post, that I am not following in the footsteps of those games.

Logo - MyWoWClone

The Level Cap

Before I started work on the Shadow Priest, I thought it was important to specify what the level cap would be. Being that this is an imaginary MMORPG intended to mimic (see mock) the design choices of World of Warcraft and its clones, I knew I had to include some leveling. The question I had to ask myself was, how much time would I want players to spend (or waste) gaining levels? Since I don’t personally care for overly large level caps, I opted for a smaller number than I expect to see among popular MMORPGs. The level cap I decided on was 50.

The Reasoning

I made this choice partly based on my experience leveling through World of Warcraft. I can remember actually being excited to reach the level cap with a new character. There was something about reaching a new level and gaining access to new abilities or talents that I found enjoyable. Then, there was the relief of finally reaching the level cap and leaving the tiresome questing behind. Well, that is until Blizzard started releasing expansions and raising the level cap.

As time passed, the leveling became increasingly tiresome and less desirable to engage in. Each time the level cap was increased, there was less to look forward to except finally reaching the end (again). In the off chance I (went insane and) decided to go back to WoW, I don’t believe I would have the patience to slog through 100 levels of increasingly meaningless content. However, in this wildly hypothetical scenario, once I reached the Warlords of Draenor content I would likely avoid Garrisons as much as possible since they will be worth nothing in Legion. It’s these negative experiences with World of Warcraft (and the many terrible design decisions) that helped me make my decision.

Guilds Wars 2 didn’t provide the best leveling experience either, to be honest. While the level cap has been 80 since launch, I never got the impression it had to be that high. None of the character progression systems feel like they were designed around the idea that a player would be chugging through 80 levels, and this is especially true after the changes made in the Heart of Thorns expansion. Ability and trait acquisition can be accomplished long before a player reaches the level cap (except for maybe the elite specializations). The design decision to have 80 levels just seems more random than deliberate.

During some interviews ArenaNet did for the Heart of Thorns expansion, the phrase “challenging conventions” was being thrown around. This was normally used to explain their choice to not increase the level cap or the strength of gear in Guild Wars 2. I like this design choice because it counters games like World of Warcraft and its clones which increase the level cap and the pinnacle of power with every expansion. As excited as I was for this, the one convention ArenaNet should have challenged from the start was needlessly high level caps. At least, the 5-year trek to 80 is now sped up by the piles of level granting and experience bonus items gained through the daily log-in rewards.

In general, the choice to have only 50 levels for My WoW Clone is due to my disdain for needlessly high level caps. There is absolutely no reason to have a level cap so high that it has adverse effects on the leveling process. When the level cap is too high, reaching it can feel like a chore. Additionally, the content created for the leveling areas isn’t always the most engaging, and this causes the leveling process, which is already a chore, to feel like work. A game should never feel like work before it becomes fun (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XI Online).

The Effects of this Choice

One way this decision affects classes in My WoW Clone is the frequency of ability acquisition. In the mock up of the Priest class (linked earlier), you may notice that I used many of the abilities available to the class in World of Warcraft. This was done to create a solid foundation that could be expanded on as needed. The abilities were distributed across 50 levels (instead of 100) which resulted in a new ability being earned every other level rather than every 6+ levels like in World of Warcraft. The acquisition of new abilities, especially on a regular basis, is a fun aspect of leveling that is lost when the level cap is too damn high.

The choice to have 50 levels also influenced how I played with features that exist in World of Warcraft. During my redesign of the Priest, I devised a variant of the Talent system that consisted of 10 tiers of talents (instead of 7). Players would gain access to a new tier every 5 levels, each tier would provide 3 options, and the final tier would have the strongest or most game changing choices. I moved some abilities WoW typically grants through leveling into the talent tree to create interesting build choices. I wanted the talent system to have a major influence on the gameplay/rotation of the chosen specialization, at least moreso than I’ve seen from World of Warcraft.

The Future of the Level Cap

Since I have divulged what the level cap is for My WoW Clone, and the whys, I’d like to discuss what its future would be with expansion releases. Now, the traditional route would be to increase the level cap by 10 to give players the illusion of added progression. Then, a slew of new content would need to be created to accomodate 10 more levels of questing, higher stat numbers, and all of the content from the previous level cap becoming irrelevant. However, if I have not made my feelings clear by this point, you should know that I fully intend to avoid this failure pile of game design altogether. The level cap of 50 in My WoW Clone would remain fixed for its entire lifespan.

I have forged a number of design philosophies over the last decade. Most of these follow the same goal of “don’t do this stupid thing that World of Warcraft has done.” I have observed the development of many games in the MMORPG genre, and WoW is most often the one I turn to for what not to do when developing a game. I believe the most recent philosphy I created was “avoid adding features that are destined to become irrelevant,” which is based on the implementation of Garrisons in the Warlords of Draenor expansion. I have one such philosphy that decries the periodic increase of level caps because it does more harm than good.

There is so much wasted development time when building a game for a higher level cap. The developers have to spend a lot of time rebalancing the classes because of the dramatically increased stat numbers. While tweaks are to be expected when new abilities or talents are added to the game, this work is likely doubled if the developers have to become accustomed to a slew of new numbers. Then, there is all of the content that is added in an expansion. The new zones, dungeons, and raids are all destined to become irrelevant in the game’s next expansion, so all of the development time and money that goes towards their creation is wasted in the end.

This brings me back to when I mentioned the number of dungeons and raids that exist in World of Warcraft (in Part 1). I stated that there are only 8 dungeons available in Warlords of Draenor (according to Wowhead), but a total of 78 dungeons in the entire game. If the level cap had never been increased with each expansion, imagine how different World of Warcraft would be. Try to envision what it would be like to return to the game after a couple expansions, or start playing the game for the first time when the game has 10 years under its belt. Do you think you would ever hear of people getting bored while logged in if there were 78 dungeons available at the level cap?

What are your thoughts on the way level caps are handled in MMOs? If you were to design your own game, what would you do? Do you agree with my observations? What level is your Garrison? Join the discussion below.

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Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you’ll be back for the next one.

War Fist out.


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