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The Insider Perspective: Does WoW Need Fixing?

March 21, 2012

http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9097559

This kind of thing really chaps my caboose.

What I was met with was a game that was completely at odds with itself, from both a design and narrative perspective. Not only this, but it was a game that seems to not only fail at taking itself seriously, but fails at taking the intelligence of its players seriously as well.

Let’s deal with this first. What is the objective of World of Warcraft’s current incarnation of the leveling process? One, to level up. Two, to provide an enjoyable, questing-based experience to get to that level cap without making the player feel as if he/she is grinding. Three, to provide stories from around the Warcraft universe about the Cataclysm from the perspective of various people living in different place. Lastly, to fix the perpetually (or, at least it felt that way) same “boxed copy” quests from the original WoW that have been hanging in the game since about 6 years before Cataclysm. These are in no particular order.

Given that, they have really stepped it up in that regard. Each zone has an excellent series of quest that, if you’re reading all the quest text and paying attention, really do lend a sense both to the Cataclysm’s influence on world events and the War in Warcraft between the Horde and the Alliance. As a Horde player myself, I enjoy the questing for the story – Silverpine Forest has an amazing storyline that I really don’t even want to spoil (and, given it is free content at this juncture, you should go download a copy). In that sense, narrative cohesion is not even really neccessary; Blizzard is telling the story of an entire world, and that’s a pretty big task, to be honest. It’s not always about the player character, though the player is involved in events that shape how the world’s conflicts work and resolve. This is a distinctly different narrative approach from, say, Skyrim, Fallout, or Kingdoms of Amalur. No one said WoW lets you make your own story. You can RP if you wish, but that’s your prerogative. WoW is, in fact, a linear narrative with a large and interactive world,. with multiple players (rather than YOU, specifically) all partipating in a collective environment. I find that far more engaging than these open world experiences. In addition, these “unrelated” story threads usually coalesce much later into story content, even raid bosses! It’s happened since WoW’s launch, and I find it overly reductive to state these “self-contained” narratives are a problem. That, however, doesn’t help with the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King content, which is outdated (and probably needs an update sometime soon!), but I can understand why such an update is delayed for new content instead – it’s not that easy to write story-lines for the other continents, because they aren’t in the story. A convenient excuse? Perhaps.

In terms of Deathwing, I’m glad I don’t have to see him all the time! Otherwise, it’s not about exploring the world. For me, he’s not an interesting villain anyway, but he shouldn’t be everywhere! That’s what the Twilight’s Hammer are for. Pandaria looks to take this same approach as well (with its lack of a central villain figure like the last three expansions – it’s getting old, guys). Cataclysm didn’t necessarily “fail” as an expansion, but its content is a bit different that the leftover story threads from Warcraft III, which many people wanted to see. As well, the game was made much harder than Lich King’s easy (really, really easy) content grind, and this does turn off players who had been playing just during Lich King.

Now, what you probably noticed is that ” a full world” was not a current objective. I am sure Blizzard realizes they are making an MMO, but much of an MMO’s lasting appeal comes from its end-game. That’s why they have guilds, after all. As well, PvP and Dungeon Finder work even when you’re leveling up, and these can certainly break up the monotony (if you feel that way about quests). WoW can, at times, be what you put into it. Yes, the world has become more empty, but that is because they focused too heavily on the narrative approach; in other words, you can’t have a linear story with a open world MMO and expect it to work perfectly. It’s something they are going to resolve with the next expansion, as the recent press releases have shown.

Quests end up being incredibly repetitive and don’t offer enough gameplay based engagement to support a single player campaign.

I still don’t understand this. The author states that quests offer variety, then says they become repetitive. Which is it? Of course, at some level, much of the game is up to the players. You can certainly go the way of the optimal leveling track, and that will get boring using 3-4 abilities on everything. But experiment a little! That’s why you’re questing, right? To level and learn how to play your class. Now, there’s an obvious divide between leveling and playing end-game, but the spacing of abilities gained is designed for trying this stuff out.

I feel the best solution to this problem would be to look to another game for inspiration. In this case, that’d be Final Fantasy XI. FFXI implemented a wonderful system called “level sync” where if players group up with a lower leveled player, the higher level player’s levels and gear stats are synced with the lower leveled player’s. Thanks to this, players of almost any level can group up together and play together.

There are some problems here, however. My biggest problem with FFXI’s implementation of level sync is that, aside from playing with your friends, there’s no real incentive to use the feature. Instead of this, I propose that grouping and completing quests with friends would provide rewards similar to those you get from doing random dungeons, but scaled so that your rewards come from the EXP you gain at the scaled level.

As for making new players stick with the game, this will not work because of the way the game is designed. If you can get scaled rewards, it simply defeats the purpose of making new content. People would be doing old stuff for the sake of this gear, and Blizzard has to design the game in a way where loot can’t be exploited. This is ripe for it. Now, transmogrification rewards would actually be pretty cool with this system, but not actual, stat-giving loot. I’ve, frankly, done way too many old instance runs to get transmog loot, and that would really bring an incentive if you got, for example, pieces of Tier gear (like, for example, old Icecrown gear that still costs Justice Points – WHY?)

Now, there is a problem here. It means that leveling content difficulty would have to be tweaked slightly. Right now it’s almost insultingly easy, to the point where a player who has learned the ropes of the class they’re playing may well not even die until level 60 or so. I’m not saying that the game should punish players with death, but rather that it should be balanced to be completeable as a singleplayer experience, but ideal in a multiplayer one. This would involve adjusting damage output of the existing content, rather than attempting to tack new content into the world. It’d be difficult, but the increased social experience would do nothing but help the game.

Honestly, people have tried this (see: FFXI), and forcing MMO players into groups within the world does NOT WORK FOR NORMAL PEOPLE. Once you’ve forced them to group up, that takes hours, and who honestly has these hours but unemployed people or students (like me, lol, kidding)? WoW has been redesigned for convenience’s sake in spots, and making easy leveling + cool stories = fun for me. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me! Actually, I have instanced from level 15-85 (ABSOLUTELY NO QUESTS), and you can also PVP your way there as well; see, there are plenty of options! I just wish Blizzard could make these more apparent to the new players. I would also say that this game is absolutely designed to make money and keep you playing; that’s why there is a subscription fee, after all. In that sense, you have to limit the rewards that players can earn per week.

World of Warcraft is always very much in line with the objectives the developers set for each expansion. Although the experiments don’t always work quite that well (Cataclysm, notably, is the biggest reason for subscriber loss), they’re always working to present new ways of playing the game. That’s why I love WoW so much – so much crap to do! They just need to communicate this better. And join a guild, would you?

Concluding, here, WoW has probably the best system of challenge/reward I have seen in a continually evolving game – if they mete out rewards like candy, it just simply cannot work. Grouping with friends who are lower level, then getting items for it, doesn’t give any incentive to raids and the like. If the gear isn’t good enough, no incentive. If the gear is too good, too many players grouping with lowbies alts of fellow guild members. It’s a vicious cycle, and such exploits have happened before (see: Raid Finder, which on the first day allowed INFINITE queuing, netting a great deal of players a full set of gear the first day a raid comes out). So, it’s about balancing new and old players, really. If they just appeal to new players and open worlds, it just cannot sustain itself for long.

Also:

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I said I would do it. Even at 85 and in pretty good gear, we still wiped at least 20 times (with 4 people). We had to take nearly a full group of 10 to do it (on normal, no less!). I’m happy to have gotten the title, too.

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