The One Decision I Never Thought I'd Make

You're unlikely to see me streaming World of Warcraft anytime in the near future.

Wow. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I started playing in February 2005 after seeing my boyfriend at the time running around Stranglethorn Vale on his gnome rogue. "That looks like a fun game," I said. He rolled his eyes and gave me the most condescending smirk ever. "Yeah, right. You probably wouldn't like it." Of course, this made me even more determined to play it, and after 13 years of frolicking through Azeroth and a few years working for Blizzard itself, I think I can safely say screw you, dude.

I've seen the game evolve over the years and it's always been my Main Game, the one that I always end up running back to no matter how many other MMOs I've tried -- and there have been a whole heck of a lot of those -- and the one game where I've immersed myself in the minutiae, learning everything I possibly can about the mechanics and the lore. World of Warcraft is a big part of what lured me into the games industry in the first place. If ever there was a game for which I was proud to have my name in the credits, it was that one.

There's only been one other time I've thrown my hands up in the air and walked away from the game, and that was at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, when they announced that they were totally redoing Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor in Cataclysm. Nostalgia was running so high for me at that point that I was almost mortally offended over the idea of flooding Thousand Needles and changing the bosses in Deadmines. (Side note: I'm actually still mad about that last one.) But when I finally came back down to earth and gave it a chance, I realized there was really more good than bad with the changes to the world in Cataclysm -- both Plaguelands were actually fun now! -- and I solemnly swore that I would keep an open mind to any future changes, no matter how shocking, until I evaluated them myself.

I maintained a fair degree of neutrality when they announced leveling changes in preparation for the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. After all, something that sounds odd on paper or computer screen still has the potential to succeed on actual implementation. I wasn't against the idea of slowing down the leveling process at all. In fact, I was often frustrated and felt slightly overwhelmed by the whirlwind tour of the questing zones that had me moving from one to the next before I could really finish the local storylines or get my gear all on the same level. It was appealing to think that I might be able to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery for a bit while I played. I also wasn't initially bothered by the concept of increasing mob difficulty to minimize the chance of one-shotting whatever you were fighting at level, as long as that difficulty increase wasn't severe enough to impinge on a player of average gear and skill's enjoyment.

And that's where the disappointment kicked in.

I finished the starting area quests for my death knight right before the patch with the leveling changes dropped, figuring he was as good a candidate to try out the new and hopefully improved experience, since death knights have in the past been notoriously "facerollable." If I couldn't make it on a death knight, I probably couldn't make it on anything.

I couldn't make it on the death knight.

The increase to the amount of experience required to level up wasn't bad at all. In fact, I thought that increase was incredibly reasonable. Scaling content level to the player's level in order to ensure you could actually complete a zone before out-leveling it felt great. I was excited to see that the quest rewards were also scaling accordingly. On the surface, everything seemed fine until I got about halfway through Outland.

Typically, if I die on a character I'm leveling, it's because I did something stupid, like went AFK in an unsafe place or ran off of a cliff. Once I started noticing the mobs' numbers going up, I was going down hard. Any quest that had me fighting a non-elite named mob guaranteed me multiple deaths in a row. Eventually I was unable to progress through the zone without Ben hopping onto his rogue and being my pocket assassin. I'd manage to get my gear to a certain agreeable plateau where it seemed more balanced against the damage output and toughness of mobs in the zone, and then just as quickly as that zen was reached, it all became a Sisyphean task again.

At first I thought I was just playing a death knight wrong. I talked to guild members who suggested the exact rotation and stat priority I was using. Closer inspection revealed to me that the real issue was gear not scaling as quickly as the mobs were. Yes, the item levels were going up, but the stats themselves were still not high enough to counteract the tougher mobs. The gear I needed to defeat them was the gear that the quest to defeat them was supposed to reward. The leveling process hadn't just slowed down; it had stalled.

Conversations with other players in the community have reinforced the idea that it isn't just me suddenly becoming useless at the game I've spent over a decade playing with six of those years spent in hardcore progression guilds. Once you hit Legion content, you're golden, because the power of the artifact weapons you get right off the bat is high enough to compensate for all but the very worst gearing issues. Getting to Legion, however, is so painful and unrewarding at this point that were I a more suspicious individual, I'd think it was all a conspiracy to drive Character Boost sales.

The workaround right now is to spend lots of time running dungeons and basically twink out your character -- load them up with the most optimal gear available for your level -- which theoretically allows you to survive leveling without too much trouble. The problem is that the experience gained in dungeons is lackluster at best, and the dungeons themselves now take longer to complete at level due to the mob difficulty increase, so for folks like me who don't have the opportunity or want to invest a lot of time into alt characters, it's an exercise in total misery.

My main character, the retribution paladin, is sitting at maximum level and is pretty well geared. She's killed Argus outside of LFR. She's gotten tons of transmogs and cool achievements and vanity items. I have one of each of the other armor classes -- leather, mail, and cloth -- at that maximum level as well so I can farm their transmogs if I have the urge to do so. At this point, the only reason for me to level those other alts is to finish out my desire to have all of my profession bases covered and to be able to boast about having every class at max level.

But given the time, aggravation, and effort required to get there? Meh. I'd rather play any of the other hundreds of games sitting in my Steam library, or maybe binge more shows on Netflix, or double down on my reading goals for the year, or any number of things I can do in my free time that make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing anything at all.

I'll definitely be back when Battle for Azeroth is live. I pre-ordered it, after all, and I should be on even keel with the new content it'll bring at least on those four characters. Unless another patch drops before then that improves the content scaling and brings it back down to acceptable levels, though, I can't see myself returning much before then, except maybe when the urge to farm more vanity items arises.

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