Audiences of all kinds know the experience of coming in late and trying to catch up, whether it’s a lengthy prose series, the sixth or tenth season of a long-running TV show, or whatever. In MMOs it’s a problem, too, since the ceiling keeps going up over time and there’s more and more to catch up with. I’ll be writing about the solutions various publishers are proposing, starting with the ones coming from the fifty-ton gorilla of MMOs, World of Warcraft.
Blizzard’s designers started with a simple adjustment, some patches back: they reduced the number of experience points needed to go up a level, and increased the experience points given out for completing quests and instances (what we old-timers keep calling “dungeons”), while also improving the quality of the armor, weapons, and other goodies available as rewards. The net effect was to cut the time to advance a character from level 1 to 60 by about a third, and to leave them better-geared as they started in on levels 61-70. These last 10 levels are the domain of the first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, and they wanted to leave that as is until the second one was ready to go.
Now the second one, Wrath of the Lich King, just about is ready to go. It’s got an official release date (November 13th), and sometime between now and then we’ll get a very large content patch that includes pretty much all the changes to game mechanics that don’t require access to the new scenery that’ll be in the expansion itself. That leveling relief will be extended from 60 up to 70, the current level cap, so that folks will have a bit easier time getting to the 71-80 spread that is the domain of Wrath of the Lich King.
This is all good, but still, 1 to 70 is a long, long haul. So Blizzard set up its Recruit-a-Friend program. This drastically changes gameplay in several ways. Does it work? After playing with it myself, the only answer I can give is an emphatic yes and no.
The program is set up to work with pairs of characters, one from an existing account, one from a buddy with a new account. Or, much more likely as nearly as I can tell, a buddy with a second account. I’ve run into a few actual new players doing the recruit-a-friend thing, but the vast majority of those involved seem to be current WoW players willing to pay for the second account. Each participant establishes a link to the other account.
Linked characters can summon each other, once per hour. While close together, they get triple - yes, three times - normal experience for kills and quests, as long as they’re within four levels of each other. Further, for every two levels gained, a character on the new account can bestow a free level on a character on the old account. These benefits stop working at level 60, but even so...the pair of characters levels ridiculously fast, and the veteran gets a free level 29 sidekick out of the deal. Oh, and once the new account has been paid for for three months, one character on each of the accounts gets a special mount, not otherwise available. And it’s very cool: it’s a zhevra, the unicorn-horned zebra-looking creature familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the Barrens.
In practical terms...well, I got my new primary character (a hunter) to level 60 in about two weeks of fairly regular play. Someone with less available time than I have could still do it in a month. And the step from 60 to 70 is about to get significantly easier. If you were to sign up for the program tonight with a cooperative friend, you’d probably have a character ready to visit Outland (at level 58-60 by the time Lich King comes out), and ready for Northrend (the new continent opened up in Lich King) by the end of the year, with a level 29 alternate ready for you to level up sometime (or to have as a dedicated crafter, or whatever).
But should you? Well, that depends.
Are you a new player with no interest to speak of in the world or storylines, looking for a quick way to join friends in raiding and endgame action, or high-level PVP? Then the answer is “yes,” without reservation. You can be ready to join the fun fairly soon.
Are you already a WoW player who mostly just wants some more characters ready for the new stuff coming? Then “yes,” this is very likely to work out for you. Set up a second account yourself, or get a dual-boxing friend, and go to town. It’s a lot of fun to blast on through.
Are you new to WoW and interested in exploring as you go? Then this is not what you want to do for your first character. You move so fast that things become unrewarding long before you get to finish a lot of the multi-part quests and such. If you take the time to see them anyway, your pace of advancement will slow to right about where it’d be if you did it the regular way. This is a good deal for your second character, and ones after that, but it’s an awful way to go if you want to learn the world as well as the rules.
There’s one other caveat. If you play a character with a lot of class quests and special abilities to develop along the way - rogues, for instance - you really have to make time to do that stuff along the way or you’re going to reach 60 way underpowered. Furthermore, I have yet to see a recruit-a-friend speed-leveled character reach 60 with more than the bare rudiments of any of the professional skills. You’ll have to catch those up, just like anyone who adopts professions at 60. It’s not especially hard, but it’s something to be aware of, since it will consume some of your play time thereafter.
So to sum up: It is not a universal cure, but within its boundaries it is very helpful.