With Shadowlands releasing in just a few months, perhaps the most intriguing change coming to World of Warcraft as a whole is the overarching alteration to the leveling system. With the level cap being reduced back to 60, and much of the world opening up again, players will have the opportunity to pick and choose which expansion’s zones they’d like to level through when creating a new character from scratch.
Ideally, once Shadowlands launches, the leveling experience won’t be bogged down by the looming threat of outleveling a zone or having to move on from a certain expansion’s content before completely finishing the storyline at hand.
However, one potential obstacle does stick out when envisioning Shadowlands leveling: Pathfinder achievements.
Prior to Warlords of Draenor, unlocking flying on a new continent wasn’t much of a challenge. You spoke to the Flying Trainer, paid up a couple hundred gold, and just like that, you were able to fly. After WoD, however, getting the right to fly became a bit of a task. Along with the introduction of the Tanaan Jungle in Patch 6.2, Blizzard introduced Pathfinder achievements that would allow players to fly on Draenor. The practice has continued for the past 2 expansions and the company will most likely follow suit when Shadowlands drops.
The simple requirements of any given Pathfinder achievement – things like completing quests, grinding reputation, and exploring zones – might not seem like too much of a burden during the lifespan of a certain expansion. However, for players who weren’t able to complete those achievements back when they were considered “current content”, going back and grinding through old zones when there’s more modern stuff to do is certainly less than optimal.
For example, a player might really want to go back to Draenor and level through the content there when Shadowlands drops because they were never able to experience it back in 2014. However, because they never played the expansion, they probably never got the chance to unlock flying.
An even bigger problem arises when we deal with the players who leveled through a certain expansion’s content – say WoD, Legion, or BfA – but didn’t play the expansion all the way through to the end. Although they may have really like the leveling content, they still weren’t able to unlock flying. In that case, why wouldn’t those players just go to Pandaria, Northrend or somewhere from the earlier expansions? They’ve already done the experience on foot. Why do it again?
Unfortunately, this raises quite the imbalance between leveling content. When players are faced with the choice of where they want to level in Shadowlands, they’ll have to decide between expansions that are gatekept by the ability to fly, and those that aren’t. Only the players that have unlocked and played through the necessary requirements have a truly level playing field.
So, what are the potential solutions? Well, for starters, Blizzard could completely remove Pathfinder achievements from the game. That’s by miles the most straightforward solution that could even things out without having to jump through hoops. However, removing those achievements does take away a literal sense of “achievement”. You had to earn the right to fly these past three expansions, and making everything streamlined might leave those players who actually put in the legwork feeling betrayed at the end of the day.
Another solution to the Pathfinder debacle could be making the most “current” Pathfinder achievement grant flying for all expansions. For example, completing BfA’s Pathfinder achievement would unlock flying in the Broken Isles and Draenor, as well. Of course, you would still need to go back and complete content from the most recent expansion, but that’s a lot more reasonable than having to do a world tour of every continent and farm achievements for every expansion’s leveling zones.
Whichever direction Blizzard decides to go in, it’s still clear that the leveling experience is going to be improved once Shadowlands hits the live servers. But, at the very least, some consistency and equality among the choices that are going to be presented across the board would be incredibly welcome before the expansion launches.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft