Perils and Pearls
As I mentioned in one of our previous correspondences, I’ve been leveling with a group of people, each of us making an effort to keep relatively close together in experience. This journey started with only one other player, my buddy, but now has increased in size to include my wife and another friend of ours. While there have been many benefits to leveling this way, the size of the group has come with many challenges as well, both of which are our topic for today.
I also decided to use this experience to evaluate whether leveling in WoW is truly a “social” activity. I’m unsure to start, but honestly leaning towards “no.” We’ll have to see what I find.
First, the good news. There were a lot of quests that were made mindlessly easy due to having a group of people. Any “kill X number of Y” quests were completed in a minute or two. Even quests that required a single, named mob were easy because we could spread out to locate it, tag it, and then converge for kill credit. These quests rewarded you for being in a group, which reinforced our decision.
Similarly, group quests were much more accessible, even though none of us could heal. Even with some of the “harder” five man group quests (like the Ring of Blood) that would normally require a healer, we had enough dps, roots, etc to keep the mob from smashing everyone before we all died. We might lose our tank, but she’d still get credit in the end (and a rez from my jumper cables when they worked), so we were quite happy competing group quests. Only Durn the Hungerer required us to go outside our group and grab a healer, but we found one quickly since we already had a full group. Once again, these quests make WoW seem social.
Dungeons also benefit from having a group. It would be very hard to have four people different classes and have none that could either tank or heal (possible, though – mage, rogue, hunter, lock). We were lucky enough to have someone roll a DK (two people, actually), so we had a built-in tank. Having four pure dps classes would make dungeons inaccessible, but that’s a rare case. Having our tank, we were able to do dungeons quickly without a long queue time. Were we to decide to level solely in dungeons, we might have had none of the problems we’ll talk about below, but none of us wanted that. The entire reason we had for leveling was to see the new low-level content, so we had no desire to skip ahead past zones. Our group make-up and size was perfect for doing dungeons once or twice, scoring another “social” point for WoW leveling.
Perhaps the best part of leveling in a group was the friendly banter we had on vent, which means, of course, all of us giving one another grief about every tiny perceived mistake made. Having something to take one’s mind off of the slow, boring death of grinding levels made it FAR more tolerable, so this scores yet another “social” point for WoW.
Lastly, playing in a group provided us with pvp protection from equivalent leveled people in our zones. Of course, nothing can protect you from a “death from above” 85 dropping in on your head, but other players who were also leveling in our zones mostly left us alone. Through 71, there were only 2 notable exceptions. The first, Sgt. Doakes, killed one of our friends who had just rezzed and was eating to get his health back while we were flying to turn the quest in. The Sgt. found life hard after that, having four people constantly following him (even into Honor Hold, dotting him up, and running out before the guards could get us). The second, a pair of DKs, had a similar experience. They won a few battles, but lost the war. So once again, the pvp protection makes WoW leveling seem social.
Now, dear reader, I must burden you with the negative side of this coin. First, collection quests became a nightmarish hassle when we had to collect 48 of a 20% drop rate item instead of 12 of them. We learned quickly to skip these quests when possible, but there were some that led to easy quests after them which, then, we didn’t want to skip. In LotRO, quest items for almost every collection quest (though not all) dropped for everyone. It was a much more party-friendly system than what we see here. All told, there were probably 15-20 truly grueling collection quests we had to work through, which made WoW leveling seem extremely unsociable.
One of the most difficult aspects of leveling in a group was organizing our schedule. With two people, we were able to play whenever we were both on, which was at least a little bit every day. However, when the size increased to four, our play time became relegated only to Friday nights and Saturdays. This problem, of course, isn’t inherently WoW’s fault, but I submit to you, reader, that from BC on, WoW made the issue of scheduling a serious problem for leveling in groups. In the “old world,” there were many zones one could go to for level-appropriate quests, so if our schedules got messed up, we could just agree to be level, say, 30 by the weekend and to not quest in zone X. Once you hit BC, though, this starts to become a problem. With fewer zones, now we had to say “Okay, you can do the Thrallmar quests, but don’t start Falcon Point. Then you hit Wrath, which is even more linear in questing and then, I dread, Cata, where every zone is linear in its questing. It got to the point where we either had to say “get to this quest and stop until Friday” or only play on Fridays. This category, then, is a very big UNSOCIAL mark for WoW.
Another problem that isn’t inherently WoW’s fault were the very different play styles in our group. Some of us wanted to just see the new leveling content, grind through it, and be done. Others liked to read every single quest text, even though they’d seen it 3 or 4 times before. Still others like to stop for every mining or herbalism node even though it was gray to them. You get the point. This variety is actually a great aspect of WoW, that there’s so much for so many to do. However, when trying to level together, getting split up constantly, having different priorities, and having to redo quests because people were mining instead of picking up the new set of quests can be very frustrating. This, then, is another mark against WoW leveling’s sociability.
Lastly, I want to call attention to the gathering professions. There were unintended consequences to WoW’s adding experience to the act of gathering a node. First, the extreme difference in the quantity of herbalism versus mining nodes creates a huge XP discrepancy in some of the zones. Even places like Silithus, Searing Gorge, or Tanaris, scorching hell-holes where life can barely hold on, are FILLED with herbs. There were times in Winterspring where my buddy was able to see four nodes on his minimap at once, and by moving to one of them more appeared. On the other hand, mining nodes were few and far between in most of the zones. Secondly, the amount of XP gained by gathering seems to vary wildly. Since I was mining and my buddy was herbing, he would get levels ahead of me during the week while we were questing together, and I would have to take time on the weekend to go mine just to catch up with him. I started doing the cooking daily in Orgrimmar as soon as I could and that – every day – plus an hour or two on the weekends was usually what it took to catch up with him when we was only herbing while we leveled. That’s extremely poor design and exceptionally unsocial.
So by the numbers, WoW leveling scores 1 point for being social over anti-social. One small, fragile point. A point which is easily canceled depending on how patient, forgiving, and friendly you are, or based on what profession you choose (my friend saw no problem with herbalism, of course).
That said, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed it despite the problems. I made a conscious effort to mellow out about the gathering discrepancy and the somewhat flighty focus of my friends, and since then, I’ve been enjoying the leveling experience with them. I just feel that WoW could do a lot to make it an even more “social” experience since it’s occurring in the context of a supposedly “social” game. It would be good practice for end-game behaviors if leveling required some more socialization than a few forced-group quests that some classes can solo and can otherwise be skipped over.
Stubborn (made more so by friends who say “Wait; what quest is this for? Oh, I don’t have that one…”