28 December, 2010
I lamented on Twitter that I’d love to fly around the newly cataclysmed Azeroth, but didn’t feel like paying for the expansion (plus a month’s subscription) in order to buy the flying skill. Blizzard gave everyone a Christmas gift of a 10 day free trial to the game. So, not only did I not have to pay for the expansion, I didn’t even pay for a month.
So, here’s my perspective as a lapsed “WoW tourist” from the other direction.
My history with WoW
Context is everything, so let me bore you with my past with WoW. Note that I was an SEK last time I took the Bartle test. (Not sure what I am now since I can’t find a working version anymore, but this still feels right.) I’ve been most interested in WoW when my friends were playing, and really don’t care for soloing; yes it’s easy, but it feels empty if I’m not with a friend chatting and cracking jokes. I also love poking at game mechanics, being a developer myself.
A friend of mine bought me the box at launch, and we played as a group though all of the “vanilla” content. Upon hitting level 60, we felt stymied; we mostly enjoyed the group content, but we were hitting walls in some of the higher end instances at the time. More gear would help, but we really had no interest in subsuming our regular group of 4 people + 1 more from our small, friendly guild into a 40-man raiding hivemind. At that point in WoW’s career there was the one true way to spec your character, and my strange resto/feral Druid hybrid that worked well in the group was right out; Druids were to spec full resto so they could innervate the REAL healers, Priests.
So, most of us quit the game about that time, a bit less than a year after launch. Then The Burning Crusade (TBC) came around and we all bought the expansion. I consider this the height of my WoW experience. I remember someone asking my Druid out of the blue if I would tank an instance on my first week back. Wait, what? Druids can tank now? Eventually, we did get into raiding and I got to be an off-tank. With the intro raid of Karazhan requiring only 10 people, it was easier for our group to stick together and not have to subsume ourselves to the will of a larger guild. We mostly belonged to mid-tier raiding guilds that went into instances once the keying requirements were dropped. The first guild we joined disintegrated, and we joined another. That guild went pretty strong, but a bit later I was starting to do more consulting work and didn’t have the time to dedicate to raiding.
With the launch of Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK), I came back. I decided to try something new and went Balance (LAZERCHIKIN!) I noticed that it seemed easier to level up since I could nuke stuff from a safe distance. Something about the game just failed to grab me, though. My friends were all back, but it felt like I was going through the motions. That guild my friends and I were part of was pushing hard to get into raiding, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I left after only a few months and have been gone from WoW for nearly 2 years. I wasn’t particularly taken with the storyline (having never played the Warcraft III expansion), and saw the one thing I really disliked, the reputation grinds, raised to an artform. And, yes, I’ll admit that I was cranky at seeing my Druid’s flexibility being usurped by Death Knights and their mounds of cheezy abilities. Eventually my friends lost interest in the game, too, so they quit later after raiding a bit longer.
Now Cataclysm is on the scene, and my friends did not make a return to Azeroth. But, my Druid was back in action… for 10 days, at least.
Everything old is (somewhat) new again
So, the big draw for me was cataclysm, how it promised to change the lands forever. Well, it did and it didn’t.
Yes, there are a lot of changes, but to someone coming back it feels hollow. For example, Auberdine was destroyed but the Night Elves are some speedy construction workers and moved to the stable looking Lor’danel to the north. So, a huge swath of destruction merely forced the Night Elves to relocate and get some differently named NPCs. Yeah, there were some NPCs dying or dead on the beach, but except for some strange names, how much did most people really remember the NPCs?
What about the new quests? Even though I helped a drunken old Gnome with his stupid buzzbox quest that needed different animal parts to maintain it, I was now asked to go kill more creatures anew for the buzzboxes to “analyze” after the cataclysm. For me, this drove the point home about how my actions have no real consequence for the world. I feel like a bit player in a large scripted play, not a hero. Sure, it’s not much different in most other fantasy MMOs, but it’s a question of how much I can close my eyes and pretend. For me, this just doesn’t do it.
I had to admit, it was pretty neat to fly around the old continent, hopping over mountains that were at one time impassable barriers between the zones. And, yes, some areas are quite a bit different; the sundered Barrens and the flooded Thousand Needles stand out in particular as major changes. I guess I expected more radical changes like these, whereas most areas seemed to have a crater added somewhere, maybe some big effect you can see from far away, some scattered ruins, a lot more flight points, but otherwise business as it was before.
But, hey, at least they finally finished that damn inn’s roof in Westfall! Oh, and completing the new buzzbox quests finally got my Night Elf Exalted standing with Darnassus. Yet another frustration from having an old-school character from back when the original rep grind was with your own faction. (Morrowgrain, anyone? That word still sends a friend of mine into convulsions after grinding that damn thing for rep for so long….)
Everything new is still old
A caveat here: the free trial doesn’t allow you to get to level 81. I barreled through some quests, only noticing my nearly full bar remained that way after completing another several quests. Anyway, I’m hesitant to go forward and “waste” more quest xp. So, my experiences here are a bit curtailed.
I heard that Vashj’ir was a cool zone, so I decided to go there instead of Mount Hyjal. I flew around Hyjal, but didn’t actually do any quests. I did get the flight into Hyjal quest and saw Deathwing mini-cinematic. But, the concept of an underwater zone sounded cool.
Anyway, I ran headlong into the new “MOAR CUTSCENEZ!” philosophy of WoW trying to get to the new zone. I was instructed to go to a pier, but as an ADD-addled MMO gamer, I tried to follow the arrow that lead off into the distance. After a while I flew back and saw the ship come in, but it disappeared when I got close. I saw a bunch of NPCs, and landed my bird form next to them and noticed they were a bit chatty. “Oh!” I thought, “Sneaky cutscene!” After listening, the ship arrives and I plop my bird butt down on the deck. Then the ship takes off… leaving me floating in mid-air even though I’m sitting. Oops. Time to sit through the scene again. This time, not in bird form.
I go through another cutscene where something drags me under the water. Except I’m a Druid and I have a whole shapeshift form (with the glyph) dedicated to moving fast underwater; I even got it when a lengthy quest required supreme timing or certain death to complete because you had to swim out into “fatigue” waters. (Seriously, many Druids back then didn’t even have the form since the quest was such a pain in the ass to do! Plus the form was of limited utility.) Then I get rescued and I find myself trapped in a submerged boat. The quest NPC tells me I need to be equipped to go underwater. Uh, again, I have that aquatic form! Okay, admittedly, I can’t really cast spells in mutant seal form, so maybe that’d be helpful. Later I do another quest where as a reward I get an undersea mount. Except I never use it since I can shapeshift to aquatic form while underwater, but I can’t mount my seahorse underwater.
I get through a lot of the quests and noticed the use of phasing to help make it look like the story is progressing. But, again, the game seems to move at its own pace in its own way, and I’m merely along for the ride. The NPCs ignore who I am and how being able to swim fast underwater is a part of my character. I see other people standing around in areas so I know there are more NPCs there than I can see, but they show up on their own schedule when I perform the required steps. The way is carefully plotted, and I can’t seem to deviate from the path at all. Personally, I had more fun going around and just exploring the new zones than to doing the quests.
Finally, it’s interesting to note the huge gear reset. I noticed people linking bind-on-equip drops that have more stat bonuses on them than whole raid sets had back in the day. Some items have over 500 points of stamina on them. That boggles my old-school mind.
War never changes
One interesting choice for the new expansion was to rekindle the old rivalries between Alliance and Horde. Perhaps it says something deep that one can see people becoming more aggressive as the world suffers destruction on an unprecedented scale, even in a fantasy game.
Let me be honest here, I’ve never liked PvP in WoW. I enjoy PvP in MMOs, but level-based and gear-focused systems leave me cold. I thought the two factions were a contrivance, and I actually liked how the two sides were trying to work together to tackle major threats like the Burning Legion and the Lich King. Even at launch I thought the restrictions were silly. But, yet, some people take some sort of pride in choosing one side or the other. (And, let me be extra honest here: you dirty Horde supporters need to admit how blackhearted and evil you truly are. Unless, of course, strip mines and toxic sludge dumps are merely “misunderstood”. :P Okay, so much for peace and understanding….)
But, I definitely saw a lot more effort put into making the two sides fight over territory. Quite a few locations had the two sides fighting openly. Even if it wasn’t Alliance vs. Horde, it was some monster attacking an enemy; I rolled a Dwarf Shaman quickly and noticed the starting area has the very first quest NPC mobbed by enemies. A lot of little flight points had active fighting going on on the outskirts. The world appears to be a very dangerous place these days.
Not feeling so crafty
My Druid is a skinner/leatherworker. Honestly, I’ve hated the damn professions for about as long as I’ve had them. Skinning corpses meant I was always playing catchup to my friends running to the next kill. I stuck with the professions in a blind hope that something would improve and eventually I just didn’t feel like changing professions. Leatherworking finally got some drum recipes that were interesting, but they were introduced back in the dark ages when shapeshifted Druids couldn’t use items, and being a Feral Druid and sometimes off-tank in raids made it hard to really use the drums at the time. Sure, I could make gear, but it was quickly obsoleted for raid drops, or I had to farm a stupid amount of elements (primal, frozen, whatever) in order to make materials (and/or grind through crafting to get to the point I could make the raid-level gear). I just never had the stomach for it, and it looks like the latest expansion does nothing to improve the situation.
Archaeology was said to be an interesting addition, but I found it also lackluster. Flying all around the world to play a little mini-game in random areas wore thin. Then re-assembling an item that was immediate vendor trash? Looks like there are some cool items, but only after you’ve done a lot of putting together priceless ancient vases along the way.
It take some talent…
What about the revamped talent trees? It felt like a contradiction to me: your character is simultaneously stands out from the crowd but feels less unique.
Back in TBC I had a strange spec. Originally, before dual specs, I didn’t even take Mangle so that I could have a few more resto talents. (I did eventually take Mangle, though.) What I lacked in raw DPS I made up in being able to throw in a bit of extra healing when the raid really needed it. I loved being able to tank, DPS, or heal as needed and even change roles on the fly, even if I wasn’t quite as powerful as a focused character in that area. The guilds I was part of appreciated that flexibility and I used it to great effect. One of my favorite stories was how I was main tanking one of the bosses in Zul’Aman and I was able to pop out of bear form during a boss sequence, rez someone in combat, then go back to tanking. We didn’t win the fight, but it impressed the hell out of the raid leader.
But, I definitely noticed the lack of defining abilities while leveling up the few alts I’ve played with. I’ve abandoned many characters in the level 15-20 range because I just didn’t feel like I had much to set my character apart. Choosing a specialization really seems to help define the character. But, the problem is that you can’t put together interesting builds. You’re pretty much forced to buy most of the abilities in your initial specialization until you get to relatively high levels. So, while a Balance Druid is very different than the Restoration Druid even before getting the Moonkin form, every Balance Druid is mostly the same until you get to very high levels. For me, that seems less interesting because it allows less choice.
However, it’s interesting to see the changes to classes. Druids, for example, have a meter as they cast offensive spells. Your main attack spells are Solar or Lunar, and build up energy of the corresponding type; build up enough and you undergo an eclipse state, where your other type of spells gets a boost encouraging you to do something besides the “optimal rotation”. Warlocks no longer have to worry about physical soul shards, but now can store up to 3 in a meter under their character health/mana. Hunters now use Focus (as they were originally intended to) instead of Mana. Some of these changes do help make each of the classes feel a bit more unique compared to other classes in similar roles it seems.
So, what’s left?
I watched videos of the Goblin and Worgen areas when they were in Beta, so I haven’t played a new character of those races yet. I created a Worgen hunter, but I’m not sure I’ll play it much. I might go through the world one more time and see the sights. But, without the level carrot dangled in front of me to get me to play the new content, my interest has definitely waned.
Ultimately, I think this is my swan song for WoW. The game just doesn’t have the appeal it did way back when. Even if my friends were interested, I think I’d probably be agitating for them to come play DDO or LotRO with me instead. (Funny enough, I got into LotRO because they wanted to try it out when the Mines of Moria expansion was released. They lost interest but I kept playing since my better half took up the game, her first MMO.) As I complained in my last blog post, my game drive is running low on space and WoW is a multi-GB mass sitting there for a game I’m just not that interested anymore. Maybe they’ll do something cool in the future and I’ll come back, but I’m not seeing it.
OMG, you hate players!
Yes, but that’s beside the point. I just have tastes that have moved beyond what WoW can offer. As a developer, I can understand why various changes were made. Blizzard has enjoyed some rousing success with the game and it’s still going strong all these years later, so they’re doing something right for a lot of people. I applaud the development team for taking the bold step of trying to reinvigorate the game. As a player, I am facing the reality that this isn’t the game for me anymore. My intermittent interest in the game is at fatal levels of disinterest. I’ve got other MMOs I enjoy, and perhaps more importantly, I have other projects (including MMO ones!) I really should work on.
Does WoW still do it for you? Great! Maybe you love the Archeology mini-game. Maybe you hated Auberdine and are glad to see it wiped out. Maybe you think an underwater zone is just too cool. Maybe you still love flying around Azeroth looking at it from high above. That’s great, and hopefully the MMO market will be able to supply games for all of us to enjoy
So, tell me what you think. Is Cataclysm all you wanted? Once all the shiny newness wears off, do you think it will keep you interested? Or, are you already pining for something else?