The trap of linearity

Tobold is experiencing Mists of Pandaria largely spoiler-free, and is concerned that MoP is shaping up to be just as linear as Cataclysm.

Blizzard is making most of their money from people like my wife, who was subscribed to WoW all the way through Cataclysm, and was busy leveling alts.

Mists of Pandaria might well turn out to be the worst expansion ever to level alts in. It has the linearity of Cataclysm zones, but where Catalysm had two possible zones to start in, Mists of Pandaria only has one. The Jade Forest might end up being more hated than Hellfire Peninsula, because in Hellfire at least you could skip the quests you didn’t like. All the talk you heard about Blizzard making MoP more casual-friendly is going to come to nothing if those casuals become bored of leveling alts due to linear questing.

An SWTOR mission

This is exactly the problem I encountered with SWTOR. The class quests are unique to your class, but the rest of the zones are incredibly linear, with very little room for deviation. The best you can do is try to get ahead on XP and skip side quests, but you can’t just ignore a zone planet completely even when you’re totally burnt out on it.

This pretty much killed any desire I had to play alts in a serious way in SWTOR, despite my interest in the different classes and their individual stories. It is, I think, probably the single biggest flaw with SWTOR: the replayability is very low1, which means that there’s little motivation to continue subscribing2 after you’ve played both factions to level cap. Even raiders need something to do outside of raid times.

Tangentially, The Secret World has the same problem — however, it’s less of an issue in TSW because you can do everything on one character (except experience the very small amount of faction-specific content), so a) there’s less impetus to play alts, and b) you’ve got a lot more to keep you busy on your main character anyway.

Totally linear quest progression is, I think, a design mistake for a traditional MMO. It may enable the devs to tell more interesting, engrossing and epic stories, but it’s at the expense of replayability, and replayability is where the MMO money is.

  1. Relative to most other MMOs.
  2. For most people.

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4 Responses to “The trap of linearity”

  1. Bruce Baugh
    September 27, 2012 at 03:58 #

    As is usually the case for me with Tobold, I find a sensible concern blown to 125% or more of where it seems relevant. I’ll have more to say as I get my leading characters further along, but I find this more of his “a bad thing means it’s all ruined” schtick.

    • September 27, 2012 at 09:10 #

      Yes; from what other people have been saying, it sounds like only the first part of MoP is on rails, to explain and introduce the Pandaren; the rest of it is apparently more Wrath-style than Cataclysm-style, which is a good thing, I think.

  2. September 27, 2012 at 09:23 #

    I was quite sick of Cata’s 80-85 experience in the end, but I haven’t found linearity to be much of a problem in SWTOR (four 50s and counting). The only lead that you pretty much have to follow is your class quest, but otherwise you can pick and choose your XP sources along the way. Just seeing the same general scenery in the same order is a far cry from being forced to retrace your steps on each and every character.

  3. Bruce Baugh
    September 28, 2012 at 04:54 #

    OK, Mists follow-up. Tobold is wrong, in a very understandable way.

    The first 25% or so of level 85 is as much on rails as he said. There’s…a couple hours of content early on, when you’re sightseeing and all, down probably to 45 minutes or an hour once we’ve seen the sights a few times.

    After things open up substantially. The flow of questing sometimes looks very Cata-like, and then it doesn’t for a while. :) There are distinct hubs, but there’s no single path from one to the next. I didn’t realize this myself for a while – I’d tend to leave “return to the last place to check in” quests and then find several more breadcrumbs waiting for me.

    And that’s all within one zone, Jade Forest. Two more opened up at 86 and I haven’t even seen them yet. My best guess right now is that by 86, there’s enough material for at least 3 separate leveling trips, and possibly more. (Loremaster of Pandaria is not going to come quickly.) I imagine things will reconverge at the high end, but honestly, I don’t recall when I last had this much open space before me in terms of paths. Burning Crusade? Maybe all the way back to vanilla.

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