Tuesday, September 9, 2014

World of Warcraft and what has happened

It's been some time that I wrote anything interesting about WoW (or anything at all :). I quit when Pandaria was announced and deleted all my characters. Pandas for a whole expansion, for me, was the proof that Blizzard was finally more about "What could be cool?" than about "What could be great?". I could have accepted pandas being added, but a whole expansion just about them was ridiculous and still is.

(You can check out anytime you like)
.. but you can never leave. MMOs, that you spent thousands of hours playing, don't just let you go. Just like those two years of partying in your twenties in Barecelona won't let you go.

Now, as Warlords of Draenor is coming, I played a bit in Pandaria. While doing so I thought about what has changed. What changes were really for the better what was for the worse?

It's a very long list. In fact, it is an incredibly long list. As usual, I will concentrate on a few major negative changes. The reason is that I just don't remember the good ones all that well. Whenever there was a change I agreed with I was happy and forgot about it. It's the negative ones that I have spent lots of time thinking about. And, honestly, I do think WoW changed more for the worse than for the better.

(The PvE/PvP Separation)
The very first bad change that I can remember came with The Burning Crusade: The separation of PvE and PvP items.

My basic problem is this: If I want to play on a server where open-world PvP is a possibility (horde vs alliance, you know), I want to have items equipped that are good for PvP. But to gain those items, since TBC, I need to do PvP, not PvE. So, what exactly am I doing in that open world, where I can only gain PvE items that are not desirable for the open world?

PvE and PvE-items don't make me better in the open world; not when it counts: when I am ambushed by a player. The only thing that PvE items are good for is raiding. And that's not enough for a casual player like me - especially not with raid finder around that allows me to find out about the story irrespective of my performance and any community. Topping the dps meter was always a questionable fun; but to do so in anonymous raid finder is really not worth it.

This leads to the absurd consequence that I don't care about 90% of the game, and especially the open world, anymore. Only in BGs can I acquire items that are useful. So all I am doing is battlegrounds and some minor questing while disenchanting every item I get this way. I might do this for reputation so that I can buy an enchanting recipe that I'd like to have (even though I can enchant stuff via the auction house, too nowadays). Or I might do it to earn some gold that I need to repair my stuff. But, really, the open world and dungeons, something WoW was about in classic have mostly disappeared from what I do due to this single change alone.

(Emblems, boring loot and itmlvls, skill homogenization)
Emblems, justice, valor, automatic loot distribution, epics for everybody, itmlvls etc.

This change started slowly with TBC and then really came at the start of WotLK. Suddenly everybody had epics. But those were boring. Players got them with emblems by doing dailies. Those dailies were terribly boring. You didn't do a dungeon, because dungeons were fun to explore or survive as a group. Instead, you did it to get 120/120 emblems and a boring item.

There were no happy drops any more. Instead, you constantly felt unhappy because you didn't have enough emblems. This turned the world a bit more from a mysterious place with rarely visited, interesting locations, like dungeons, into an automaton that rewarded effort with predictable rewards. It contributed significantly to the demystification of WoW.

Just like the fact that all kinds of fun items suddenly disappeared. In classic dungeons you could find items with all kinds of interesting proccs, speeds, properties. In TBC and especially WotLK those disappeared. This trend continued until Pandaria when an item was nothing more than an itmlvl for a specific item slot.
In classic you could say something about the items your character had: they had a character, like an unusual procc, like improving some elemental damage, like having a downside, like the boss it dropped from and that it somehow fit in theme to that boss. In TBC and especially WotLK you couldn't. All you could say was that you needed X runs to get bland item Y - just like everybody else. That item Y would have primary stats that are exactly identical to all other items for that slot with that itmlvl.

This "homogenization" also applied to character abilities, battlegrounds and dungeons. Just like items became similar in that they were just an itmlvl for an itmslot, all characters' abilities became similar to help make arena and raid dps more balanced -a not all that important goal, considering that most WoW players have never been hardcore raiders.

Battlegrounds became the same: they all required a similar amount of time to complete. Just like items, they lost their 'soul'. Waiting for an endless long Warsong battle to finish might have been annoying, but it added soul to Warsong and it made some battles memorable. Waiting for the timer, however, prevented any Warsong battle to become memorable ever again. And don't even get me started on Alterac Valley, cross-server BGs or automatic teleports to the BG. They all added to the erosion and finally elimination of server identity, let alone realm pride.

(Dungeon Finder)
Of course, the worst change ever was the dungeon finder. In fact, it was so bad that it often would not be copied by competitors; and those, really, copied anything else from WoW without any sense or understanding.

The dungeon finder essentially removed dungeons from the game. In their stead it added AoE that was so terribly boring that nobody liked doing daily dungeon runs already after a few months. In fact, it was so amazingly terrible that Blizzard itself tried to correct the mistake with Cataclysm and more difficult dungeons. Of course, this didn't work. Difficult dungeons worked in a social game. They don't work in an asocial game, like the one dungeon finder had created.

Looking at WoW sub numbers, you can clearly see how in mid-WotLK, when Blizzard added the dungeon finder, the game stopped growing within weeks - as did my friends list! Now, you can call that coincidence. Correlation isn't causation; I know. But correlation always is a good hint. And outside of math there's no absolute proof, anyway.

(Super-easy leveling game)
Ghostclawler gave an interview not long ago where he said that one of is main goals with WoW had been to open it up to even more new players. I'd love to have a look at Blizzard's statistics - I am pretty sure he failed.
Turning the leveling game from easy-to-do into super-über-easy-to-do might have stopped players completely new to computer games, from dying often in the beginning. But that was unnecessary, because dying in WoW had never been much of a problem. You just ran to your corpse and continued. It was fine!

After Ghostcrawler's changes, the only way to die in the open world level 1-60 was to become disconnected. The only way to not kill something was to not press any button at all. It was impossible if you had a pet.

Sure, new players died less. But after a few hours they also became very tired of this ridiculous game. It was like chess with 16 queens - in fact, it probably was even a lot easier than this. I know a few people who played WoW super-casually just for the questing/exploration fun and the occasional dungeon. Almost all of them quit with this change. The change, that was supposed to help new players into the game, had turned all but the hard-core raiders and hardcore PvPers (who didn't care about leveling, in the first place) away.

(Power creep and resets)
I still don't really get this. At the start of TBC Blizzard thought to have found just how much more powerful an item has to be to feel like a worthwhile replacement of the current one. And so the power creep started not just for the top 1% raiders, but for everybody.
While I ran around in classic for a year without changing my items all that much, suddenly I would swap them ever more often. Sure, after I reached another tier I was considerably more powerful - but that only helped to make a lot of the game irrelevant (dungeons, the open world). I remember how happy I was when I finally created +2% crit gloves in classic. It was an epic recipe. Did I feel the increased power? Hardly! Did I enjoy those gloves? A lot!!

Blizzard's response to the power creep were ever faster resets by introducing a new 'tier' and making the old one easy to get. It made items forgettable, it made returning to your 'epic' character after a break much! less rewarding, it turned items even more into rewards, instead of, well, items of a fantasy world.

De-mystification of a MMO cannot be avoided completely with time - but it can be helped by the developers. Blizzard, being mostly power-gamers themselves, had lost all feeling of the soul or even the lore of WoW, and consequently changed the game into a version that didn't offer much of it in the first place. All with the excuse of "gameplay first". Which is, like any white/black idea, not a good one; especially not if you interpret it in Blizzard's extreme way.

(Rotations and speed of combat)
In the beginning, my mage was about spamming fireballs with a few firebursts, frostnovas, blink, sheep and a few other spells. Nowadays it is about reacting to proccs shown on my action bar. This change happened pretty late with Cataclysm and it's not even completely bad. It's just that it is mostly good for raiding; something that never was my main activity in WoW. Outside of raiding the rotations mostly take too long to be of any use.

This is especially true since the open world / dungeons are so super-trivial. Tell me how many affliction warlocks have fun while leveling.

In addition to long rotations, all combat was accelerated. The global cooldowns have been reduced, many abilities are off the global cooldown. When initially you could mount up in 6 seconds, nowadays it takes 1.5 seconds. Everything in WoW has been sped up. That turned it more into a reaction game and away from a tactical game. The most important thing in combat is the action bar with its proccs. I'm a long-term computer player and especially long-term WoW player and I am often overwhelmed with all the things going on. Is that good? Is that part of easy to learn, hard to master mantra?

I'd prefer a game where hard to master meant the right decision given a complex situation, to a game that requires mostly muscle memory and fast reaction times to be mastered.

(Eating, down-time, self-healing)
WoW leveling was never hard. So you usually wouldn't die if you were somewhat careful and not completely inexperienced with the user interface. However, there was still an incentive to play well: Your health/mana bar. If you let yourself hit too much or spent mana irresponsibly you would have to sit down and eat/drink more often. Now, maybe those down times were too much for nowaday's fast gaming world. But fact is that today, in the open world or dungeons, you have no incentive whatsoever to play smart. Your only incentive is to do lots and lots of dps or even AoE. Damage to your character has become irrelevant. This is also due to changes to tanks.

With the introduction of dungeon-finder one problem became apparent: Shortage of tanks. Blizzard decided to increase the number of tanks no matter what. As a consequence tanks were made extremely powerful - especially during leveling. In fact, in leveling dungeons you don't really need a healer as a tank and you certainly don't need damage dealers. Even the best DDs cannot do the kind of dps a reasonably good tank does. This change increased the amount of tanks considerably, but it also made leveling even more boring. As a tank you are immortal while as a DD in a dungeon you are superfluous. And don't even ask the healer: he is usually doing something else while putting a HoT on the tank every now and then - if necessary.

(Ignoring content and a small team)
This is one of the things that I never understood. Why is Blizzard super-careful with e.g. class-specific quests because they cost a lot of development time compared to non-class specific ones, but at the same time throws away all the content of prior expansions, making everything irrelevant? Why? Why are they ignoring the leveling of professions completely? Why didn't they find some use of old zones and old dungeons and old raids, that many of us would like to revisit? Is a revamp of small strips of content (Onyxia, Deadmines, etc.) and elimination of the old version really the best they could do?

Likewise, why did it take Blizzard 10 years to finally increase the team to a size that is proportional to the economic success of WoW? And why do they then suddenly have to increase the team by some 50% which, of course leads to delays? Blizzard should have increased the team size by some 15%-25% a year every year. They should have had special teachers for the new developers, artists and programmers. They should have drowned the community in content. They should have kept the leveling game at top quality, because that would not only have been possible given the economic success, but it had actually helped getting new players into the game much more than Ghostcrawler's nerf to super-über-easyiness combined with ignorance of those players who actually enjoyed leveling.

(The Lore)
To make it short: The lore from classic was great in that it created a diverse world with silithids, old gods, elementals, the Burning Legion, alliance races, horde races, kings and dragons.

TBC and WotLK focused this lore on a few characters and the Burning Legion. The lore at this point was still fine. But it wasn't great anymore because it lacked the diversity of a fully developed world.

With Cataclysm the lore was over. The ridiculous mad and evil dragon that Deathwing was, was as powerful as it was boring. Pandaria then tried to start again on a new continent. Not a great idea, but a reasonably good idea - if it hadn't been Pandaland.

Now, with Warlords of Draenor and time-travel/dimension-travel lore has become absurd. Sure, I like Draenor and, yes I will play a bit there. But the lore has been mangled. Just look at the forums were players try to make sense from it. With enough assumptions, making sense of it might be possible. But the lore is not great anymore, it's confusing at best.

Flying finally made any landscape irrelevant. While I don't really think it destroyed open-world PvP - the PvE/PvP separation did this - flying was still a mistake because it yet again added to the de-mystification of the fantasy world, while at the same time removing the players from the world - literally.
If you don't want the world to be part of the game, but only part of the background, introduce flying. Interestingly most competitors didn't add flying. And Blizzard intends to remove it with WoD.

(Warlords of Draenor)
Truth be told, I like WoD so far. It has inherited a lot of the problems introduced in earlier versions but tries to improve the game and correct a few of the mistakes I listed (e.g. Flying, super-powerful tanks, super-easy leveling starting with lvl90, boring items) - just like Mists of Pandaria did, by the way (but that had Pandas and added raid finder).
Apart from the unimmersive jumping games and ridiculous treasure chests, I actually like a lot about the basic idea of the timeless isle in MoP.

Unfortunately, the level 1-90 game is lost and Blizzard will not fix it - probably never. WoD, seen in isolation, as if it were a new game with new lore, could be interesting. I am looking forward to it.


  1. Nothing to add. I agree with every single point you have made, and then I feel astounded that you're going back to play in it.

  2. Try an experiment and level just one char to level 40 in any NEW private wow server running at 1x rates, either vanilla (i suggest westfall) or tbc (wow-circle), and i would love to hear your thoughts again making the comparison.

    The new server is a must because of the immature server economy that would not make your life easier.

  3. Raid finder was introduced with Cataclysm, not MOP.

    Besides that, I agree with everything.