This is one of those question that I am pretty sure I know the answer to, but I want to ask it out loud just to see what else might shake loose. What am I not considering in this mix?
I am playing through the Alliance side of the expansion right now. My paladin is already through the Tiragarde Sound zone on Kul Tiras and I am enjoying the new content. The environments are beautiful, the quests are good, varied, and plentiful, and the various side tasks and ventures change things up.
But, as I write this (ten days before the post went live because I kept pushing it off to post something else), my pally is already past level 116 and I expect will hit level 120, the level cap, long before I am finished running him through the base content.
Not that I will suddenly stop when I get there. But I will spend most of my time in this expansion… call it two years less the three weeks at most it will take me to meander to level 120…at the level cap.
So why bother having levels at all at this point?
The zones scale with you so gaining a level confers no special benefit. In fact, there is a downside to it. All the gear you get along the way is set for the level you at which you acquired it, so you have to keep replacing gear for ten levels to keep it abreast of your progress… after which you can then work on replacing gear to boost your item level. And, as we found out, collecting gear upgrades actually makes getting through the new zones more difficult. You are better off keeping your item level low, a seriously messed up situation that Blizzard seems just fine with. I mean, I was afraid of what ilevel scaling was going to do when they introduced it in Legion, but this goes well beyond what I would have imagined.
Whatever. If people complain enough Blizz will grudgingly fix it eventually. Back to levels.
Traditionally levels have been used to gate content, and Blizzard does do some of that. As you hit certain levels things are unlocked for you. But with ten fast moving levels players will still be unlocking content after they hit 120 via various other means. I don’t have to look much farther than the achievements to know that there will be plenty to do past hitting the level cap. There will be world quests to unlock, new content to enjoy, faction to grind, and the groundwork to unlocking flying to start in on.
EverQuest, the king of MMO expansions, is almost six years older than World of Warcraft, has released 24 expansions so far, and has a level cap of 110 last I checked. If you look down the list of expansions you will see that not every one raised the level cap. You can see streaks of two or three expansions in a row with the same cap.
Then again, they do keep raising the level cap in Norrath every so often, so levels have their draw. But it clearly isn’t a necessity. SOE found alternate methods.
The downside is that levels are intimidating and/or silly after a certain point. That the level cap is 120 with Battle for Azeroth has to work against it somewhat. Purists like to say that you need to play through the whole thing, but when you are trying to collect new players, the starting proposition that you must play through 110 levels in order to get to the new/good stuff is a losing one. Just having 120 levels can be seen as a pretty big barrier to entry.
So why have more levels when it is pretty clear you can do without them?
The answer, to my mind, is because people expect them.
Blizzard is a very conservative company when it comes to their successful properties, and none of them is more successful nor a bigger money maker than WoW. When you have the goose that keeps on laying golden checks every month… and when you have made changes in the past they haven’t necessarily turned out well… you do all you can to maintain it with screwing things up. Launching an expansion with a boost in the level cap… and a 10 level boost because 5 level expansions were not as popular… is just part of the recipe for success to which Blizz feels they need to adhere.
Basically this is the way they’ve always done it and it works, so why change?