The Cata Jump

The Mists of Pandaria pre-patch comes out next week, with Mists itself coming out 4 weeks later. With the Theramore event coming out, I’m trying to get at least one Horde toon to 85 before the 5.0.4 patch.  Then I ran head first into the biggest problem I had with Cataclysm.

Cataclysm did one thing different with it’s starting zones, than what Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King did, and that’s the starting level.  Vanilla WoW ended at 60, while BC started at 58; BC ended at 70, while Wrath started at 68; and Wrath ended at 80, while Cataclysm started at… 80.

So there’s no overlap, what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that heroic dungeons and raids open at the level cap of each expansion.  If players go to Outland once they hit level 58, then they had no opportunity to do any of the raids and get raiding gear, not to mention most people didn’t raid at all.  (The minimum level requirement was actually 50, but they were intended for players at 60.)  Therefore, the first zone of Outland has to be tuned for people in quest gear, so the transition from the Blasted Lands to Hellfire Peninsula was pretty seamless.

The same was true for players going to Northrend, if they went as soon as they hit 68, then they missed the Outland raids, and would be limited to questing greens.  Therefore, the intro Wrath zones, Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord, had to be tuned for players with quest gear.

With Cataclysm starting at 80, which was the level that Northrend heroic dungeons and raids opened up, Blizzard could tune the first zones, Mt. Hyjal and Vashj’ir for people who had dungeon and raid gear; and that’s exactly what they did.  This may have been a safe assumption to make for long time players, especially with complaints of Wrath being too easy, though that may have been from a vocal minority of elitist expert gamers, who didn’t care about the rest of WoW‘s audience.

Either way, upon entering Mt. Hyjal or Vashj’ir players are greeted with enemies that are more powerful than anything they faced before, and those who made the jump upon hitting 80 without getting the better Wrath gear, will face enemies that will be tough to fight one-on-one, and quickly overwhelmed if 2 or more attack together.  It gets better after slogging through one of the zones and the crappy Wrath gear is replaced with Cataclysm gear.

I hit this wall when I was leveling my main, afterwards I’d take it much slower on that transition, but in trying to level another toon ASAP, I’ve run into it again.

It’s sounding like Mists will have the same problem, with the intro zone being designed for people who have been running dungeons and raids, not just questing; which is fine for anyone who’s sitting at the level cap and has already had their fill of Cataclysm dungeons and raid, but for new players and new alts, they run into the gear problem.  Do they want to stop at level 85 to gear up before taking the panda plunge?  This design shows very short term thinking, and non-existant long term thinking.

At least this time, Blizzard may have learned its lesson, by making gear available for purchase.  Early in the starter zone, players will find merchants dispensing Mists greens, getting their iLevel up to 372, which is less than the top gear from Cataclysm, but much better than the questing gear, which is low 300’s.

This is an improvement, but I prefer the way BC and Wrath did it.  Tune the transition for questing players, while the people who come in with dungeon or raid gear will start overpowered, and will keep their gear until they start on heroic dungeons and raids at level 90.  After all, if I went through the trouble to get a raid set at the end of one expansion, I expect it to last until the next raiding tier, not thrown away partway through an expansion for questing greens.

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