Historically, the short period between the final patch of the current expansion and the release of the next one (known as the pre-patch) has been a popular time to level and try out new classes. Every expansion brings with it a slew of new features, and leveling during the Shadowlands pre-patch is one of the best leveling experiences the game has had in years.
The Shadowlands pre-patch includes questing and class design changes that could drastically alter the way you play on a fundamental level. Many revel in the pre-patch period because it is essentially a playground for figuring out your “main” or the upcoming expansion. Others prefer pushing the game to its limits, seeing just how broken things can get with the new changes. Both are okay!
For many years, the leveling experience in World of Warcraft has been in dire need of an overhaul. Having seven expansions have contorted it beyond measure. To the point that many (including new players) often loathe it! Cue in the first-ever level squish of World of Warcraft, which has reduced the 120 level cap of BfA down to 50 in the pre-patch, with 60 being the final value in the upcoming expansion. All of which makes the changes to Shadowlands leveling so appealing.
You Can Level Anywhere in Azeroth (or Beyond!)
Blizzard have doubled down on their attempts at making all content relevant for up-and-coming players through Chromie Time, the latest in their world scaling system. Upon reaching level 10 with most classes, players can then choose any expansion to level in up to the current level cap of 50. What this means is that one can more or less fully experience an entire expansion worth of content without ever outleveling it.
Fancy Northrend? Level there! Do you like some of Legion’s zones, some of Cataclysm’s, and have one in Pandaria that you just adore? You can hop between them with no fuss (and no muss!) using Chromie Time. It scales the world to you, so you can move around as you please.
While the world does scale to an extent without the use of Chromie Time, there are certain thresholds which will eventually cap each cluster of zones. Some zones do have level requirements, but they’re much more forgiving than before. It used to be common to outlevel a zone or expansion before completing it – not with Chromie Time!
The Chromie Time leveling system isn’t perfect, of course; those with a max level character prior to the pre-patch can jump right into this system, but brand-new players will need to achieve max level on at least one character prior to using it. Brand new players will be put through the Battle for Azeroth zones, which makes sense to an extent. Those are the most relevant story-wise to lead into a new expansion.
There are some other issues with Chromie Time, and scaling in general, but it is nonetheless far better than what we had prior to the Shadowlands pre-patch.
Your Leveling Gear Matters
Another massive – and sure to be divisive – change brought about by Shadowlands pre-patch pertains to heirloom gear. For years, heirlooms have been key to leveling efficiently thanks to their scalability, great stats, and massive experience gain bonuses. Although they remain strong in the pre-patch, their core experience boon is now a shell of its former self, only reducing the usage of rested EXP by a certain amount rather than giving a flat-out experience buff.
As a result, veterans and newcomers that want to play together are on a far more even playing field in terms of both player power and level progression, closing the previously massive gap between the two pools of players. Heirlooms still scale, provide competitive stat bonuses, and are quite beneficial to those that choose to pool up a lot of rested experience, but they are no longer essential to the post pre-patch leveling “grind.”
The “nerf” to heirlooms has made random leveling gear way more appealing, even to those fully decked out in scaling gear. I have been leveling both a Death Knight and a Shaman in the pre-patch, and have frequently come across dungeon, world, and quest rewards that have been better than my heirloom gear – something which rarely happened before the pre-patch. Though some may take issue with the change, I embrace it for the RPG perks alone.
Chasing the never ending carrot-on-a-stick that is gear progression is a core RPG value, and shouldn’t be relegated to the endgame alone. Again, there is still a great benefit to using heirlooms, but not quite as much as before, meaning that any random piece of gear found during your journey could very well be an upgrade for you. And that feels nice!
Class Progression is Meaningful and Exciting
A longstanding side effect of the bloated level structure prior to the pre-patch has been how class abilities and talents have been distributed throughout the leveling experience. With the departure of talent points, introduction of ability pruning, and overall philosophy shift of class progression over the years, it has been common to go multiple levels without receiving an ability or talent — until now. Thanks to the Shadowlands class changes, the level squish, and some de-pruning, players (more often than not) will receive some form of class progression each and every level.
This is exciting and makes leveling even more fun, especially when you consider the leveling gear actually being something you might want to use.
While not every class perk along the way will be game changing or outright define the class, neither did the talent point system of yore that many still long for to this day. What DOES happen, like the original talent system, is a steady sense of class progression from start to finish. That’s not to suggest that this system in its current form is flawless – I wouldn’t be against scrapping it in favor of the original talent tree, either – but the culmination of changes provided by the Shadowlands pre-patch have undoubtedly made each level gained more meaningful and impactful.
Shadowlands Leveling is Better Than Ever!
Again, leveling en masse during a pre-patch isn’t unheard of, but all the changes brought about by Shadowlands specifically has made this long antiquated portion of content far more appealing overall. Leveling in the Shadowlands pre-patch just feels different.
It has never been easier to experience the leveling content with friends, and get through it at a reasonable pace without the use of veteran-only gear or expensive consumables. With Chromie Time, the world is your oyster; pick an expansion and play it to completion — or not! Jump between the expansions as you see fit! Do a zone in Northrend, then hop through the Dark Portal to Shadowmoon Valley and then the other Dark Portal to Shadowmoon Valley when it still had trees.
Though it could still use some tuning and adjustments, the new leveling experience remains an overall win for the existing World of Warcraft playerbase and potential new players.
How are YOU liking the pre-patch? Do you feel that the culmination of changes are detrimental, or a boon to the experience? Have you decided on a “main” going into Shadowlands yet? Let me know!