This article was originally in issue 08/2020 of MMORE - so don't be surprised at references to N'Zoth in the opening text!With a low rattle, the air escapes N'Zoth and the raid cheers demotivatedly. After all, the guild members are all about to get their two hundred and seventeenth N'Zoth kill and slowly, but surely, the dreaded pre-expansion fatigue sets in. Items are quickly distributed and everyone retreats to their own little corner. The rogue examines his daggers with narrowed eyes and places them in a row next to each other. When the priest steps up beside him, the assassin is busy pulling out a calculator and tapping away at it with his tongue slightly out. "What are you doing?" the berobed healer asks wearily. "Optimizing my Equip!" comes a slightly indignant retort. "What else? Don't want to be a Carry." As the priest shrugs, the rogue frowns and glances at his buddy's Gearscore - backing away in such horror that you'd think the priest had just lit his dog on fire. "Your GS is five levels below mine! What's wrong with you?!" Another shrug and a slight sigh follow. The healer points at N'Zoth and puckers his mouth. "That thing is lying, isn't it? N'Zoth's the last boss. Won't change a thing if my numbers go up. In the next expansion, our duds will be worthless again anyway. "
Table of Contents1. Number growth above all else - who's sick of it too?2. Your hero is on the rise3. The power of possibilities4. The Metroidvania genre as a model5. High or wide, as long as it's powerful!6. too wide to fight7. Keep your power - and use it creatively
Incomprehension is written all over the villain's face as he leans over and places a hand on his friend's shoulders. "Hey don't you think you're being a little too gloomy about the whole thing? Sure a new upgrade brings with it a higher item level. It always does." The priest nods fatefully. "Yes. But don't you sometimes long for real power? For things that last longer than an expansion and don't boil down to minigames, fancy mogs, and pets? Real gameplay elements that make us stronger and more well-rounded, without just bumping up our stats?" When the rogue doesn't answer, the priest shakes his head grimly. "Someone should burn the damn treadmill. I don't need higher numbers to play better." As the healer departs with an angry stomp, the rogue frowns in turn. Doesn't the priest know that an item level and a competent playstyle aren't mutually exclusive? And without the hunt for the next upgrade, the long-term motivation of the game would implode. A soft click sounds as the calculator keys are worked again, followed by a suppressed whoop. The new dagger brings a DpS increase of zero point five percent! The rogue nods in satisfaction, knowing that only dedication and constant work on one's character will lead to success. And what would World of Warcraft be without increasing character stats?
Number growth above all else - who's sick of it, too?
Welcome to Azeroth, your hamster wheel is over there. Watch your numbers grow, please wipe it down thoroughly after each use.
Does this train of thought sound familiar? No wonder, because WoW is overwhelmingly based on chasing higher scores and optimized numbers - and that's absolutely okay. When Blizzard conceived World of Warcraft (buy now €14.99 ), it represented a simplified version of the classic MMORPGs that were widely available at the time: Combat takes place in turn-based real time, and character stats are now the main focus alongside the skillful use of abilities. A simple and effective system to reward player competence and at the same time keep the game motivation up. But recently, voices have been growing louder demanding that Blizzard slowly, but surely, rethink. As an argument, the joy of change mainly put on the table the fact that the current system does not provide bombproof long-term motivation, because the numbers on your own equipment are devalued with each expansion anyway. This means that once you reach power plateaus like character or item levels, they aren't really milestones, but just digits on a steadily increasing odometer that gets zeroed out by a squish every three expansions. We consider how these criticisms might be constructively addressed and put into practice - and whether such a rule would even make sense in WoW practice. We also do a little digging in the gaming crate and look at the success of online RPGs that already use such mechanics. So throw away your calculators and roll up your sleeves, because if we're going to make a credible argument that WoW can join the illustrious ranks of "Horizontal Progress," we've got a lot of concept work ahead of us. Conquering new modes of locomotion away from the mount would be a good way to progress horizontally - all without straddling the raid scene. Source: buffed
Your Hero Goes Steep
The antithesis of games like Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online are super-vertical MMORPGs like Black Desert Online: You like vertical progression? Here you can literally level forever. There's no fair PvP combat, though.In order for us to have a competent discussion, we first need to understand what horizontal and vertical progression are all about. The two terms get thrown around all the time when it comes to progression in MMORPGS. Simply put, vertical progression is about increasing your power by growing your numbers - a concept that is present in all online RPGs, at least to some extent, because entirely without vertical growth, it's very hard to give the player a sense of growing power. That means your attacks do more damage, your heals restore more health, and your generated threat increases dramatically. Those who speak of vertical progression mean doing what they've been doing all along, only faster, stronger, and better. Your numbers are growing, but the enemy's numbers are not moving up.
More world needs the world: With a horizontal progression, you get players back to being on the move in Azeroth instead of camping dungeons. Source: buffed
The Power of Possibilities
One thing is clear: vertical progression is a master of dopamine production. We get a more powerful item and our own brains reward us with a shot of bliss. You can pound a then indomitable foe into the ground? Here's a ladle of luck! Every video game mechanic needs to address this bodily function at least a little bit, but growing numbers are the undefeated master of this practice. So how could horizontal progression hold its own alongside such an overpowered competitor? Quite simply, it provides versatility, new abilities, and opens up new horizons for you. When a game focuses on horizontal progression, your numbers only grow to a certain point; after that, only detail improvements are possible. At some point, however, it finally ends and your character is "done." Instead of stretching all fours, however, the game gives you the opportunity to develop beyond the limits of your "class" at this point at the latest.
Shadowlands tries to make Azeroth attractive again via the leveling phase. However, it would be even better to be out in the world in the endgame as well. Source: buffed Common here are new skills that mix up the rotations or the ability to choose from all available skills from the start - without a class system. Also popular is unlocking new ways to move around. WoW offers this, for example, by first allowing you to ride on the ground and later in the air. This doesn't necessarily make you stronger, but it does give you a new way to experience the game. Travel becomes more comfortable, faster, and the player can reach places they could only marvel at from afar when they started. The best examples of this were the Storm Peaks and Icecrown Glacier in Northrend: Those who couldn't fly here only stared longingly at the gigantic peaks and fortifications. At least until he finally learned cold-weather flight, opening up the entire map.More locomotion is what the land needs
To create a future-proof and playfully harmless version of horizontal progression, there's a silver bullet: implementing new locomotion options! Demon Hunter showed us how much fun moving around in space can be. We'd like to see Blizzard continue on this track: Give us sprints, jumps, jetpacks, wings, transformations, and wacky mounts. Dig through the ground! Teleport! Swing over a precipice on a whip like Indiana Jones, but for the sake of Nether, please relax the assumption that a lack of mobility is part of the "class fantasy." If we hear one more time that it's fitting for Death Knights to stagger into combat as slowly as Jason Vorhees, only to collapse on top of their opponent in a controlled fashion afterwards, we'll throw our rune blade out the window. A little more class-detached mobility would create long-term fun without compromising game balance too much. And no, we don't want to take away the demon hunter's wings by any means. Accessibility and versatility are the words of the hour. We want to see the classes' movement options expanded rather than curtailed. Ideally, you'd just link the free-to-learn movement types to hard trials, like the one we had in the Mage Tower. This actually kills two birds with one stone: we create new challenges for fully equipped players and offer rewards that remain relevant at every stage of one's character development. To keep PvP battles fair, the new movement options will simply be disabled in player vs. player combat.
The Metroidvania genre as a model
Other flagship candidates for horizontal progression are the so-called "Metroidvanias"; games originally inspired by the structure of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Here, the player starts out as a competent adventurer, but is constantly faced with insurmountable obstacles. Over time, however, he acquires abilities or items that allow him to overcome these obstacles - opening up entirely new possibilities even in sections that have already been explored! In this case, the all-important dopamine lever isn't flipped every few minutes after looting a better item. Instead, games based primarily on horizontal progression work through clearly visible long-term goals that are one hundred percent achievable with the necessary work: A new skill takes a large amount of experience points but you know you'll get it (as opposed to randomly rolling items) eventually. The riding skill costs a lot, but if you save diligently, you can buy it. The interesting thing is that even growing the experience bar or your gold account releases dopamine, because your brain already knows it will be rewarded in a few weeks. The moment you finally get your new glider, horse, or skill tree, the dopamine dams finally break and you feel great - and the next skill is already waiting to be earned.
Guild Wars 2 relies on horizontal progression that brings permanent improvements - paragliders aren't rendered useless by the next expansion, for example.
Of course, those pointing angrily at the heart of Azeroth, the artifacts, and its ramshackle garrison are absolutely right: with all that said, it's immensely important that horizontal progression gives the player permanent abilities that remain relevant through all expansions! "Borrowed power", as WoW keeps throwing at us, is not a true horizontal progression because it (as well as our very high stats) will always be ripped from our hands at the end of an expansion.
Also importantly, in the case of mainly horizontal progression, all content remains relevant: even an elite dungeon that appears at the start of the game should still be challenging four years later, with your expanded skill account allowing you to tackle it in new and exciting ways. In summary, you'll feel your power grow in horizontal progression as well, but instead of hitting harder, you'll learn completely new strikes, shoot energy beams, or suddenly pummel your opponent from the air. In short, vertical progression makes your character stronger, horizontal progression gives you options that define your playstyle. The question remains, how do you cleverly combine it all and apply it to WoW afterwards - and what problems do you face along the way?The Tyranny of the Endgame
An overwhelming portion of the current MMORPG landscape functions almost exclusively through vertical progression.
We're happy to repeat ourselves, because the next point is immensely important: this is not a bad thing at all! Role-playing games have been defined by the growth of one's character since the dawn of time, whether played on a tabletop or PC. However, where in tabletop RPGs the journey is the destination, and in titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition the credits eventually flicker across the screen, in an MMO the show must go on. The natural consequence of this is that the endgame becomes the new king. It's no longer the journey that's the goal, but the last ten percent of the content, which gets further away from a newcomer with each expansion.
This is exactly the great advantage of a horizontal progression: the world stays interesting! Players who hang out outside of dungeons and raids aren't "wasting" their time, they're actively working to improve their character while seeing the big wide MMO world. For the whole thing to work, however, the captured treasures must be permanent improvements. World quests, as they have taken root in Legion and Battle for Azeroth, only serve to give your character a small number boost; there is no real increase in power. Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online, on the other hand, entice the player with "masteries" and "sky shards" that increase the versatility of one's adventurer in perpetuity. In order to defuse the tyranny of the endgame in WoW, a stronger focus on horizontal growth is imperative. For this, the existing endgame doesn't even need to be touched - making the character expansions attainable in the open world permanent would already be enough. Important: This kind of horizontal progression must not be relevant in the raids at all, because otherwise the pressure on the members of a raid guild would increase a hundredfold, and after all, we want more content instead of just making existing content tedious - we remember the artifact power from Legion with horror.
High or far, the main thing is powerful!
The finite game
Ultra-multiplayer will struggle with horizontal progression because they will simply have conquered and unlocked everything after a while. If the numbers don't grow forever, eventually the treadmill won't grip.
You know the concept from action role-playing games and other MMORPGs: The choice of one's talents and applied equipment takes massive influence on the chosen playstyle and dictates in which direction the character develops. For example, imagine a paladin who only wears items that increase his poison damage and make DoT effects last longer. Through a general talent tree, the player chooses an effect that makes their attacks deal poison damage and also drains the enemy's health every other tick.
A heavily armored warrior throwing fire spells around? Elder Scrolls Online takes the stance that any character can learn almost anything. Source: buffed
Too wide to fight
Well, uh... not quite. Of course, in this case, there's a whole slew of problems that only come up because of this kind of character development. For one, it throws the permanently knife-edge balance of PvP into the shredder. The task of implementing such a diverse system into an existing game is a mammoth task, to say the least. With WoW still keen to establish itself in the Esports space, an item and skill system based on extremely flexible builds rather than fixed classes would be hard to sustain. The problem lies in predictability: good PvP players don't win because they have the best reflexes ever, but because they can anticipate their opponent's attacks - in other words, they know every class inside and out and can thus estimate their enemy's most likely action in a given situation. Much of this countering is based on control skills and well-timed interrupts. However, once the enemy's actions become virtually arbitrary due to extensive horizontal skill progression, they can hardly be interrupted. Also, enemy assessment would have to be learned from scratch by PvP athletes. Evasion or block mechanics would have to take the place of interrupts, and that would shift a big chunk of PvP skill from anticipation to reflexes. And we're not done yet.
Second, PvE culture would also be rocked by a tectonic shift. All of a sudden, your gear is only important for constructing your chosen build - everything else is up to you. The moment reflexes take over rotation, the old adage "bring the player, not the gear score" takes hold even more strongly than before. In order to maintain the diversity desired in a horizontal progression, it's also imperative that the balance of different abilities, items, and combinations is right. Otherwise, exactly what is currently happening on the WoW servers will happen, only with skills instead of spoilage items: An overwhelming meta crystallizes, which must be used by every player if they don't want to crash on the damage meters. Even today, there is of course a "best in slot", but in the case of a vertical progression, at least the Loot Casino stands between you and your success, which may not want to drop the item you need. If a horizontal progression isn't anywhere near balanced, the best build can be spotted and cobbled together by experienced players in a matter of minutes. And that runs counter to the principle of a long-term motivating constructed horizontal progression. Not to mention that creativity suffers in terms of experimentation anyway.
With Legion, the world quests really took off - an attempt to take over the events from other games that failed because of the implementation. Source: buffed
A poison paladin and a holy ninja would be cool, to be sure. But the moment the boundaries of the classes merge, WoW loses some of its charm. In Dungeons & Dragons Online, for example, it's possible to mix and match classes. If you like to combine two levels of warrior, three levels of mage, and five levels of priest, you can - but that only works because the D&D universe was built from the ground up with that premise in mind. WoW needs more horizontal progression, but it needs to preserve its class fantasies because they are an essential part of the world, its story, and the WoW feel.
Keep your power - and use it creatively
So new and exciting abilities are great, but hard to implement in WoW in a way that shows up in, say, Guild Wars 2 or Elder Scrolls Online. If a power plateau is truly to be reached, horizontal progression in WoW must check off the following points: class fantasy must be preserved, and skills must remain predictable in PvE and PvP, with steady growth in playable possibilities. The first and most important point to move this concept into the realm of possibility is to restructure the expansions. For horizontal progression to work, we need expansions that actually expand the game, not completely replace it every few years. Mechanics like artifacts and pact abilities should absolutely not be removed when a new expansion is on the horizon.
The masters of horizontal progression are currently The Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 - simple copying would not be appropriate for WoW.
Another way, building on this, to give players more options without making good old WoW unrecognizable is skill modification: if you can buff your Hammer of the Righteous as a Paladin, for example, you may approach combat differently. Do you give the attack a damage shield, damage over time, or synergize with your Judgement? As a veteran, does this concept sound familiar? No wonder, as the old glyph system represented a first attempt at implementing this very game mechanic back in the day. How about giving each ability a catalog of increasing modifiers while rebuilding the talent trees so they remain intermixable? That way a rogue would still be a rogue and a warrior would still be a warrior, but we might see wildly effective item-skill combinations like the Spellpower Paladin or the Tank Priest from Classic WoW again.
The artifact system is an example of wasted potential: permanently integrating captured relics into the game would have appealed to many players. Source: buffed
WoW has the enormous advantage that raid boss mastery is already largely based on mastery of mechanics, timing, and coordination - as it should be. A challenge is a challenge, after all, no matter how high the numbers flickering across the screen in the process. So while a greater focus on horizontal progression is possible, WoW will never be Guild Wars 2. And that's a good thing.Support buffed - it will only take a minute. Thank you!
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