Last month, I hopped back into the retail version of World of Warcraft for the first time in six years. I didn’t return because I felt an itch coming on that could only be fulfilled by the greatest MMO ever, although that partially had to do with it. No, it was because the Shadowlands pre-patch launched with a never before-seen level squish, along with a new feature called Chromie Time.
This level squish reduced the max player level from 120 to 60, while Chromie Time allows for players to speedily push through a new intro before deciding which expansion they’d want to play from levels 10 to 50. This means each new character you create could experience the entirety of an expansion's content without feeling forced to move onto the next one before you’re satisfied with your progress.
Enemies, quests and world events scale to you between these levels, meaning I could revisit some of my favorite expansions (along with any that I had missed) without being pressured to continue onto the next one. This greatly increases the accessibility of World of Warcraft, allowing any returning player to jump in right where they left off without the need for grinding.
And although I strongly believe this is the best quality of life improvement World of Warcraft has seen in a decade, it’s full of flaws and could be improved in a number of ways. Hopefully, Blizzard continues to update the system, as there’s a lot that should be added or changed.
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World of Warcraft’s level squish takes what is arguably the largest game ever and makes it reasonably accessible. Providing Chromie Time is the equivalent of publishing a complete collection of eight games in a franchise and allowing the player to select which title they want to play from a convenient menu. Many years ago, World of Warcraft essentially forced you to play the games in chronological order.
Back when Cataclysm launched, you were expected to go through Vanilla, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King before you could access its content. While there were level boosts, Blizzard typically only gave you one, and any further boosts cost real life money. Back in 2010, it wasn’t completely unreasonable to force players to go through all of the game’s content before accessing Cataclysm, but now that we’re eight expansions into World of Warcraft, it’s pretty ridiculous to put that burden on players.
Blizzard was already taking action to streamline this process before the launch of Shadowlands, but these systems were half-baked and the end result was players resorting to spamming Dungeon Finder until they hit max level. Now, players can appropriately experience the content each expansion has to offer without as much pressure to move onto other ones.
This also means that you’ll have a higher number of max level characters over the same period of time. For example, you can do all of Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm with three different characters. Back in 2010, you’d have to run through all three of these expansions (and the base game) in a single run. Essentially, all of that content would result in only one character at max level. I currently have a character assigned to Warlords of Draenor, another going through Battle for Azeroth, and my main has already finished all of Legion.
Additionally, the pacing for how quickly players receive talent points makes far more sense. When Cataclysm launched, Blizzard made the controversial decision of reworking the talent system to only allow the player to receive a point every 15 levels (players previously received a talent every level). This is one of my least favorite changes to WoW, but now that the level squish is here, players are receiving a talent every five levels (for the most part). This makes far more sense, as getting a new ability every five levels feels more rewarding than getting one every 15.
Once the player enters Chromie Time, every expansion continent before Shadowlands shows that players between levels 10 and 50 can play within these areas. However, that’s not actually the case because the upper limit ends at level 49. As soon as the player hits level 50 while in Chromie Time, they’re instantly booted out of it and are teleported to their main faction city. At level 50, you can never re-enter Chromie Time, no matter what you do. I was questing through the Broken Isles at level 49, battling enemies at the same level. As soon as I hit 50, I was sent away, and when I returned, every enemy dropped down to 45.
This ruined the experience in more ways than one. Every mob I encountered was easily dealt with in one or two hits, and I was no longer able to queue for dungeons. I had to do every single one of them alone.
Blizzard should actually be honest with the player and make it clear they cannot be level 50 while inside of Chromie Time. To take this further, we should get a choice in the matter. Perhaps, as soon as you hit level 50, you have to return to Chromie to take a quest that boots you out of Chromie Time and allows you to continue to gain experience. Otherwise, I’d be fine with things scaling to me and not gaining any levels out of it. I played through most of Legion with nearly every enemy being a one-shot kill, which made things far less enjoyable.
As far as balancing goes, the arc throughout Legion was pretty consistent. It starts out rather easy, with players dispatching with enemies in a few hits. But as you get closer to level 50, battles steadily ramp up in difficulty. On the other hand, my experience with Battle for Azeroth has been anything but balanced. Certain basic enemies are far stronger than elites for some reason, and there have been a few times where a random enemy has not been scaled down at all, making my friend and I an easy one-shot kill. This is ironic since it’s the only pre-Shadowlands expansion that isn’t a part of Chromie Time. This is largely what confuses me, as the standard starting experience for new players is currently Battle for Azeroth, yet it seems the most unbalanced from what I’ve played so far.
This brings me to one of my biggest problems with the current state of World of Warcraft: new players are encouraged to experience the worst of what the game has to offer. Blizzard has created a new starting zone called Exile’s Reach, and while it’s a serviceable tutorial, it’s not a particularly compelling introduction into the world. And when they finish that, they’re immediately pushed onto the Battle for Azeroth quest line without being informed of Chromie Time. If you weren’t aware, Battle for Azeroth is considered to be the worst expansion Blizzard has created since the game’s launch in 2004.
New players will likely miss that nearly every starting race has a unique opening zone imbued with iconic worldbuilding. They likely won’t even experience the game’s best expansions, like Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King or Legion. And while I understand that it’s necessary for the sake of accessibility and condensing the insane amount of content present throughout WoW, it’s undeniably heartbreaking as a long-time fan.
Chromie Time could be vastly improved with the addition of a couple of features. It’s disappointing that players are entirely unable to access Legacy abilities, even when they’re sent back to a specific timeline. If you aren’t aware, Legacy abilities are specific skill sets that were exclusively available within an expansion’s timeline, but as the forthcoming expansion launched, those abilities stopped being available. I understand that Blizzard wants a fresh start with every new expansion, but if you’re returning to a timeline anyway, you might as well be able to access them.
For example, Legion gives you something called an Artifact weapon. With this, you can level up its skills, increase its item levels with gems, and get access to a slew of new abilities. It would be fun if this was usable in the current game, but none of those abilities can be unlocked. I understand why the Artifact weapons shouldn’t be available outside of Legion zones, but if you’re within the Broken Isles (the Legion continent) and are in Chromie Time, I don’t see why not?
Additionally, there could be a separate tab within the Chromie Time menu that lets you access pre-patch events and one-time moments throughout WoW history that are now inaccessible. World of Warcraft introduced a mechanic called Scenarios quite a few years ago that puts the player into a separate instance and allows them to experience the world in a different way, depending on the events transpiring within the story. It would take an extra bit of work, but it would pay off in a big way if Blizzard turned every currently unavailable event into an easily accessible Scenario from the Chromie Time menu.
It’s always frustrating when a specific piece of content, especially something of importance to the lore, is no longer available for players to experience. Blizzard would likely gain a lot of community goodwill if it furthered its efforts to give the option to revert the clock and experience things that have long passed. This was clearly the company’s intention with the release of Chromie Time, but I’d love to see the team take it even further.