Ragar compares WoW's version of nostalgia dungeons with other MMOs
Hello and welcome to the 11th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAM’s column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For this week’s column, I’m going to be taking another look at one of patch 6.2’s features, Timewalker Dungeons. I finally had the chance to try my hand at a few of them with this past weekend’s Wrath of the Lich King Timewalker bonus event, so I got to have that blast of nostalgia while getting a little gear for one of my tank alts. I’ll also be taking a look at how the other game I’ve been playing lately, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, has a similar system and talk about the benefits and drawbacks of both.
I Feel like I’ve Been in This Dungeon Before…
The vast majority of you out there already know what Timewalker Dungeons are, but we’ll do a brief recap for those folks who haven’t read any patch notes and didn’t queue for any of the Wrath or Burning Crusade dungeons this past month. In a nutshell, Timewalker is a system that allows higher level players to run old content for relevant rewards. This means that both a level 70 player and a level 100 player can run the same BC Timewalker instance and both will get loot that’s useful for their current level. When a player enters a Timewalker instance, their level, stats and gear are scaled down to make the dungeon content an equivalent challenge to what it would have been when it originally came out. Because everyone’s being scaled down to the dungeon’s level, this means that the other players in your group could be anywhere from just barely able to queue for the dungeon to long since level capped. In theory with the scaling system, all players of all levels should be able to perform equally well in these dungeons, but these systems don’t always perfectly balance gear so high level players (especially in raid gear) may still outperform a fresh 70 or 80 character.
Since Timewalkers are viewed as somewhat of a gear catchup system for alts, they’re not tuned to be extremely difficult. The few I ran on my tank alt were very easy, but that could be a combination of things like everyone having gear from Garrison Highmaul/Blackrock Foundry caches or the fact that Wrath heroics were far too easy when they were relevant content.
Speaking of gearing up alts, let’s talk about the loot. The item level for non-max level characters is whatever’s appropriate for that player’s level, but when it comes to someone at level cap, you’re looking at item level 660 versions of the loot from those dungeons. If you get lucky and that drop happens to be Warforged, then it’ll bump up to item level 675. Assuming that you’re willing to run multiple Timewalker dungeons over the course of a bonus weekend, the 660-675 drops from those instances combined with the 690+ item from the Hellfire Citadel cache you’ll get from the weekend quest reward will be a quick way to power a newly 100 alt from zero to LFR Hellfire ready in a couple of days. Sure there’s other ways to get raid ready (buying BoEs off the AH, Mythic dungeons, older LFRs), but a weekend of Timewalkers is a pretty painless way to go about it.
So what’s the downside to how WoW handles Timewalking? Well the most obvious is the time restriction to just a couple of weekends here and there. Yes it does help to keep that content semi-fresh by keeping players from running it so much for loot that they’re burned out on those instances all over again, but for a system that seems to be all about alt catchup, it puts players in the position of trying to time hitting 100 with the next Timewalker weekend. If they get done and they’ve missed that bonus event, there’s other ways to catchup, but while they run that other content, many of them may be thinking “Man, if this was a Timewalker weekend, I’d already be done and in Hellfire Citadel by now.” A minor annoyance for players in larger guilds where you can just sweettalk/blackmail guildies into running you through Mythic dungeons, but more of an issue for solo players and those in smaller guilds.
Finally there is one other issue with the Timewalker system, though in all likelihood this one will be resolved with time: it’s restricted to two expansions’ worth of content. We have BC and Wrath dungeons covered in their own separate weekends, but what about all of the dungeons from the original game? What about those added or updated with Cataclysm? There’s also all of the dungeons from Mists of Pandaria – they may not be that old, but considering how many players came back with Warlords of Draenor that never checked out MoP, it would still be new content for them. I would be willing to bet that many, if not all, of those older dungeons will be making some form of Timewalker comeback given the success of the system, but it is a weakness with the current implementation.
WoW vs FFXIV: Timewalking vs Duty Finder
WoW isn’t the only MMO out there trying their hand at the idea of making older content relevant for higher level players. For example, the recently announced expansion to Star Wars: The Old Republic, Knights of the Fallen Empire, is rebuilding their Flashpoint instances to scale with players from levels 10 through 65 with experience and loot tailored for the player’s non-bolstered level. Since that one is all E3 hype and not released though, let’s talk about something that’s actually released and I happen to have a lot of recent experience with: FFXIV and its new Heavensward expansion.
In FFXIV you can queue for specific instances or you can queue for a random instance just like in every other MMO. The difference is that while WoW restricts your random queues to just what’s relevant for your level or to special events like Timewalker, FFXIV’s queues are far more inclusive. If I queue for Duty Roulette: Low Level, I could get any of the instances prior to level 50. Queueing for a Roulette Trial or Roulette Main Scenario puts me in one of those level 50 8-man instances I’ve unlocked over the course of the original game and its patches. There’s more categories, but you get the idea. When I take one of these queues, I’m put into one of those instances and my level and gear are scaled to what’s appropriate for the content. In addition whenever you run one of these instances with someone that’s new to the content, the game provides you with a bonus to either experience/Gil or Tomestones (essentially Valor points for gear) if you finish the instance – a way to reward more experienced players for leading the less experienced to victory. Well, that or a bribe to keep them from bailing the moment someone says “I’m new, what do I do?” in party chat.
So in FFXIV you can run old dungeons with your level/gear scaled down and you get rewarded for doing so – what makes this different from WoW’s Timewalker dungeons other than being able to do it all the time? First off is just how much is scaled when they bring your level down. In a WoW Timewalker dungeon, even though I’m level 70 or 80 depending on the dungeon, I’ve got access to all of my abilities and talents from beyond that; even if those instances weren’t designed for players possessing those abilities, you can continue to play the same way you’re used to. Looking at FFXIV, let’s say I took my 60 Ninja and queued for Low Level Duty Roulette. If that queue throws me into Sastasha (level 15-18 dungeon), I’ll be scaled down to level 18 like you’d expect, but in addition my available abilities will be trimmed down to match. Every ability on my hotbars that came after level 18 will be greyed out and unusable, every trait (passive bonuses) post-18 will be disabled and most of my cross-class skill slots will be disabled as well since someone at level 18 wouldn’t have all of those slots or access to higher level skills from other classes. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have to constantly adjust my rotation every time I knock out this daily because some portion of my hotbar no longer works.
In addition, while the rewards for Timewalker Dungeons in WoW are scaled to be relevant to your actual level, Duty Finder rewards for low-level instances in FFXIV aren’t quite so lucrative. When I was level 35 and actually needed experience from dungeon runs, I would curse every time the roulette gave me Sastasha or another low level dungeon because other than the daily bonus, it wasn’t worth my time since the experience, Gil and boss drops didn’t scale to my actual level. If a dungeon mob gave you 1000 XP and 20 Gil when you did it at low level, it’ll give you 1000 XP and 20 Gil when you run it at level 53. The boss loot isn’t completely worthless if you’re planning on leveling another class on your character and feel like picking up some gear for them while playing your main, but otherwise all you’re going to get is a pittance of Gil for vendoring it.
So How Do We Improve Timewalking?
There's aspects to both games' take on the scalable dungeon concept, but both have their weaknesses. What can WoW borrow… er… learn from FFXIV’s version of Timewalking and how else can we improve the concept? First off is the obvious: expand the system to include more instances. We’ve got all of those old dungeons that can be included to be relevant content for players. I don’t think most players would even mind that it’s rehashed old content – they’d just be happy to have a wider pool of instances to run with their friends than the same small set that launched with WoD.
There’s still the matter of the weekend restriction here. Given the item level of the equipment is just enough to get players ready for LFR and normal Hellfire Citadel, I personally wouldn’t think it’s an issue to leave them on all the time, but if we want to prevent burnout still we could at least expand on them. If we add in other expansions’ dungeon sets as Timewalkers, we could add those to the mix. Even better would be to layer them onto other weekends to help players who just aren’t interested in that content. In particular Apexis Crystal and Pet Battle weekends – not everyone wants to train pets and Apexis Crystal farming is honestly still boring even with that buff. Tossing in some other Timewalker dungeons for those weekends would give players uninterested in those bonuses something to do and you don’t even have to add the cache/seal reward to these if you still want to primarily encourage them to do Pet Battles and farm Apexis Crystals. We could even have the weekends swap places occasionally in the order, so different expansion sets get the cache reward while the others take the secondary role on the other weekends.
But what if I want to run Timewalkers on more than just weekends? How do we keep providing a worthwhile reward while also preventing players from overdoing it? I do have one other idea for this: heroic dungeon loot and Baleful tokens. We’ve already established that the dungeons can scale their loot based on the player’s actual level, so it’s theoretically possible that non-weekend Timewalker instances could get loot that’s the equivalent of WoD’s heroic dungeons or possibly a little higher like Highmaul LFR. Just enough that it’s still something to help gear up alts while keeping the weekends as special events. To encourage players to participate every day, even once they have a full set of the “heroic” gear, we could introduce a daily reward for the first Timewalker dungeon each day. This daily reward could be a Baleful cache, containing either a Baleful token from Tanaan Jungle or (on rare occasions) an Empowered Apexis Fragment. Considering those Baleful tokens are 5000-10000 and the Empowered Apexis Fragment is 20000, getting one of those for a quick 20-30 minute dungeon run seems like a pretty good deal, huh? It’s not sweet enough to pull Mythic raiders into the mix, but that’s not really the group we’re trying to attract with a system like this.
I like the idea of Timewalker Dungeons in WoW and I’m interested to see how they expand on the system. I’m not holding my breath on seeing any Timewalker raids in the near future, but there’s always the possibility. The new SW:TOR expansion is doing it with their old Operations and they’re highlighting one a week for bonus rewards to encourage the community to try different ones, so WoW could always try something similar. There’s always the question though of if it better to invest in a system to make old content worth doing again or if we stick with the current system where we assume players will just ignore 5-mans until a new one comes out or the next expansion hits and they’re relevant again.
That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. Have you run any of the new Timewalker Dungeons? If you’re a veteran, did you enjoy the hit of nostalgia? For new players, did you like getting to see those old dungeons? Would you want to see more of these Timewalker instances? What kind of reward would be enough to keep you coming back if they became an everyday occurrence? Let us know in the comments below.
Michael “Ragar” Branham