If you've played World of Warcraft
for any length of time, you've probably heard the refrain that game balance is most important at endgame. Whatever endgame happens to be at that time (level 60, originally; level 85 in Cataclysm),
the idea is that a little weirdness in talents, abilities, survivability or damage output as you level up isn't as important as making sure things are working properly at maximum level. While it may still be true, recent forum posts indicate that the leveling game and even the current, soon-to-be-moribund maximum level of 80 are seeing more balancing passes now than one might expect.
Ghostcrawler - Re: Question about design priority
We are going to spend some effort adjusting numbers for 1-80. It's not as big a priority as 85 because frankly, more players care about balance at 85 than they do lower level balance. As some folks have pointed out, inexperienced players almost by definition, don't place a premium on balance, and experienced players tend to not worry about balance much until they're at max level since things are changing so quickly.
Rather than adjusting everything independently, we tend to focus on max level and then work backwards from there. It doesn't help to nerf say rogue damage by 5% from level 1-60 if we then find we also need to nerf it at level 85 and then buff the 1-60 numbers to compensate.
There is some goofy stuff going on at lower level, but we'll get it all straightened out. After spending so much effort revamping the old zones and quests, we don't want the leveling experience to be an odd one.
I wouldn't call it a change of direction, as Blizzard has never said it doesn't adjust lower levels, and clearly a great deal of Cataclysm's
focus has been on content for leveling players, but it does show a willingness to make changes in the face of oddities of design. (The original poster notes things like rogues soloing Scarlet Monastery while level-appropriate
.) With more people than ever leveling through battlegrounds or the dungeon finder, the lower-level experience is actually pretty compelling and important. It's good to see some design time aimed at fixing its problems.