Players have been testing the new World of Warcraft expansion for nearly a week now in the Shadowlands alpha. In addition to testing new zones and content, they’ve also started experimenting with the level squish changes, which takes World of Warcraft’s current level max of 120 down to 50 — up to 60 with the Shadowlands expansion. And with the squish, players have discovered a much shorter journey from starting the game to reaching max level.
In my own experience, current World of Warcraft leveling can be a multi-day slog. Even with some items increasing my experience gains, and my knowledge of old zones, it’s taken me over two days of in-game time to reach max level before. Some players can drastically lower that time, but it’s still an extremely long experience. For new players with no items or knowledge of what to do, leveling from level 1 to 120 can take nearly 80 hours.
At BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard announced major changes to leveling experience — to go along with the level squish. Now that players are in the alpha, we’ve seen confirmation of a 12-15 hour leveling experience with no XP items.
Reddit user DesMephisto timed themselves leveling over the weekend and broke their time down into 10 level chunks. By choosing the Dark Iron dwarf race, they started at level 10. So at level 20, their time read two hours and 33 minutes. They hit level 30 at four hours and 57 minutes, and level 40 at eight hours and five minutes. Finally, they reached level 50 — the level needed to start the new Shadowlands content — in 12 hours and 16 minutes. For players starting at level 1, the opening experience will take an additional hour.
While it’s possible Blizzard could be inflating XP gains alpha testing, this speed lines up with some of Blizzard’s initiatives from BlizzCon last year. In 2019, Blizzard announced that players would choose a specific leveling period when crafting a new character — rather than playing through the game’s seven previous expansions.
For the first 10 levels, players will either play the new player experience, Exile’s Reach, or opt to play their race’s starting zone instead. For the remaining four levels, players can choose whatever experience they’d like to play through. The game defaults to the current expansion, Battle for Azeroth. But players can visit a NPC to change their leveling track to another old expansion, like Wrath of the Lich King or Mists of Pandaria.
Leveling through an expansion typically only takes 6-12 hours, depending on your skill or knowledge of the area (some players are much faster). Assuming the XP values stay the same, inexperienced players could jump into World of Warcraft and reach the most modern expansion in less than 20 hours.
While that still sounds like a long time to spend grinding quests, that’s a very reasonable time sink for a more traditional, single-player RPG. This is a great boost for players interested in pulling friends in World of Warcraft for the first time. But it’s even better for World of Warcraft fans who want to play more characters.
Running a second, third, or fourth character — called an “alt” — is time consuming in World of Warcraft. But with 12 classes to choose from, players often want to experience all the different types of gameplay the game has to offer. Now even longtime players who refused to go through the leveling process again can reasonably pick up more characters.
Assuming Blizzard follows tradition, these leveling changes will likely hit sometime this summer, during World of Warcraft’s usual pre-expansion patch. This should give players several months before Shadowlands’ launch to level up some characters using the new system.
Blizzard has yet to reveal a launch window for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
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