“Over the past four years (Cataclysm launched at the very tail end of year six) [World of Warcraft] has lost an extraordinary number of subscribers. Its growth has stalled. This is a stark reversal when the game was in an upward trend for the first six years of its lifespan. Why is that? What’s changed its fortunes so thoroughly?”
As both gamers and people, we are creatures of habit. We know what we like and more often than not return to what is comfortable and familiar instead of forging new and scary territory. There’s a lot that can be discussed from that, such as why players clamor for wholly innovative products yet reject them when they’re *too* different (TSW!), but I mention that simply because I am quite aware where my comfort levels lie in picking MMO classes:
- Comfortable: Pet classes. Hybrid classes. Medium-armor jack-of-all-trades classes.
- Fringe Comfortable: Healers. Rogues.
- Uncomfortable: Tanks. Extreme glass canons (mages). Anything Elf.
During my adventures with Guild Wars 2’s Necromancer, who is now level 62 and practically unstoppable, I realized that I’m essentially playing my World of Warcraft Warlock (the original Syp) all over again. OK, Warlocks are into demonic binding and Necromancers call that yucky while animating corpse guts to do their bidding, but there are a lot of similarities in how they both play and the decisions I’ve made in building my GW2 toon:
- Light armor
- Swap between dagger/offhand and staff
- One big power pet (Felguard/Flesh Golem)
- Craptons of DoTs
- Tougher than they look
Running around dotting mobs up while watching my pet smack the crud out of bad guys is and was a relaxing joy. I love planting down a spell that ends up causing a lot of numbers to be streaming over heads for a while to come, as if I’ve infected a mob, they’re already dead, and they just don’t know it yet.
And I wondered if subconsciously I started playing the Necro like this primarily because it’s what made me happiest in World of Warcraft. Maybe. It’s been a long, long time since I played my Warlock with any regularity (I think we were in Northrend at the time), but old patterns and fond desires die hard.
Filthy neutrals, I hate them so much!
Anyway. Warlords of Draenor. Not a big surprise of an announcement at this point, but that’s fine. Not everything has to be a huge surprise. What we have here is an expansion that’s obviously drawing upon the fanbase’s love of The Burning Crusade by taking players back in time to show the world before it got blow’d up good. WoW’s moving forward by going back to the past, which makes me a little cross-eyed to consider.
It’s tempting, more tempting than Mists of Pandaria’s reveal was. Pandaria didn’t pluck at my emotional heartstrings whatsoever, and I didn’t regret missing out on it. This… maybe a little plucking. A few distant memories of Nagrand that glow in my heart. And big reveals tend to stir the nerd love.
It looks nice, overall, and I give two thumbs up to the character model revamps (the old ones looked old in 2007) and the garrison system. It’s sort of more functional player housing, which is cool, although what happens to it when expansion 6 launches? Do they move their headquarters back from the past and to whatever new continent/world they’re exploring?
I’m less thrilled with the Orc focus. Orcs are dull, dull, dull. I want to say this is a personal feeling, but no, it’s a universal constant. You can give them all the muscles and savage nobility you want, but… ugh. They’re Orcs. They should just be cannon fodder enemies like in every other fantasy game.
And even though I kind of just want to leave this can of worms alone, I can’t resist kicking it. I think it’s a huge mistake to give players an insta-level 90, just like I think it’s a mistake in other MMOs to level-skip like that. I have a huge rant/argument about this that I’m not going to go into now, so suffice to say that this is the latest part of the slippery slope that Blizzard made for itself. It kept adding more levels and making leveling far too fast, repeating that over and over, to now where we can just pretend that the pre-level 90 game doesn’t exist because you don’t have to adventure there at all. Whenever a company announces this feature, all I hear is an admission of failure of the leveling hole they dug for themselves.
This is really the answer of least resistance for Blizzard and I am not surprised. I mean, a mentoring/sidekicking system would’ve taken work. Horizontal progression would’ve required ingenuity. Just fiddling with numbers so that a counter goes from 1 to 90 in a heartbeat takes a few seconds of coding. Yes, huge level ranges are a real issue for hanging out with friends and getting to the new stuff, but there are better ways and I am just so sick of this mentality that the best solution is to hand out high level characters that nobody earned because a studio can’t be bothered to structure its game better.
See? Testy. I’m going to be happier on Monday.
This aside, I like that WoD is a little more serious in tone than Pandaland. Considering the subscription slide that WoW’s seen this year, Blizzard absolutely had to announce an expansion to stoke the fires once more. And as I said, it is tempting to think about coming back.
So two quick thoughts before I leave well enough alone here. First, this expansion is a safe, calculated play on Blizzard’s part. It’s interesting, but there wasn’t anything here that made my eyebrows fly off my face. Free-to-play would have done so, but Blizz isn’t ready to travel down that road yet, I guess.
Second, once everyone gets past the emotion of the day, the cold reality is that Warlords of Draenor will be pulling into the station in 2014 with WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online cracking their knuckles and looking for a shot. It’s going to be interesting.
Sometimes the Battle Bards have to give attention to the “little MMOs” out there. Maybe you’ve never heard of World of Warcraft, but you probably have played Warcraft: Orcs & Humans back in the day. Well, this is the MMO that’s set in the same universe, and believe it or not, it’s got some great tunes. Let’s give it a listen, why not?
Episode 14 show notes
- Introduction (including “Main Theme” from World of Warcraft and “Howling Fjord” from Wrath of the Lich King)
- “A Call to Arms” from World of Warcraft
- “Elwynn Forest” from World of Warcraft
- “The Shaping of the World” from World of Warcraft
- “The Sin’dorei” from The Burning Crusade
- “Castaways” from Cataclysm
- “Mountains of Thunder” from Wrath of the Lich King
- “Stormstout Brew” from Mists of Pandaria
- Mailbag: Ian
- Outro (“Salty Sailor” from Taverns of Azeroth)
Special thanks to Tesh for the Battle Bards logo!
“We were at one time internally discussing the possibility [of creating a classic World of Warcraft server] fairly seriously, but the long term interest in continued play on them couldn’t justify the extremely large amount of development and support resources it would take to implement and maintain them. We’d effectively be developing and supporting two different games.”
~ CM Drysc, February 2008
Sometimes when progress happens, when change happens, it makes us yearn for simpler times instead. That’s never so true as it is with MMOs. These games expand and add on and change like crazy, but for all of the good that that can bring, it also can make things too complex and remove us from what we used to love about them.
Every once in a while you’ll see a blogger muse about a vanilla World of Warcraft server — a classic 2004-era dealie. The good ol’ days. Of course, that’s a loaded hypothetical, for many reasons:
- Blizzard has stated time and again that it has no intention of making a classic WoW server. And as we all well know, Blizzard does not go back on its word unless it’s profitable or amusing to do so.
- The code for the 2004 version just might not exist any longer. Blizzard updates its servers and has gotten rid of its old hardware. We don’t know but it’s unlikely that the studio’s kept a pre-Burning Crusade backup around somewhere.
- Nostalgia often overpowers reality. We may say we want something from the past, but in actuality, we might not really flock to it. Or, far more likely, everyone will flock to it for a week and then leave once their curiosity is sated.
- No matter what you’d create now, we’d be coming at it from a 2013 perspective, not a tabula rasa-fresh perspective.
But let’s go with the hypothetical and play with it a little before letting the dream go. So let’s say that Blizzard decides that a vanilla server is just the thing to rope back in old players. There’s a lot of decisions to be made here.
Pricing. The studio’s not going to do it for free. So it’ll probably charge a standard sub. Would players pay $15/month for a lesser version of the same game they get now? Or pay at all while there are plenty of F2P games out there?
Then what, exactly, do you release? WoW has benefited from a ton of bug fixes, so ideally we’d have the technical improvements of 2013 WoW but in a content-restricted 2004 WoW. I think most vanilla WoW hopers would want the version of the game that was just prior to TBC’s launch so that the old world was the most fleshed out. But would you include newer features? Achievements? Transmogs? New races? Updates to classes? Class balance? Old talent trees? Practically any new object drops they now have for old world zones? You can see how this would be a serious headache from their side.
I mean, we can’t forget that making a vanilla WoW replica today by modifying the current game will be impossible with the current game maps post-Cataclysm. You’d really would have to find an older backup, kind of how RuneScape did for its 2007-era server.
So let’s say that it happens. Blizzard figures out how to put out a vanilla WoW server and the price is agreeable. What would it be like?
I think it’d be a serious shock to our systems. All of the changes of not just WoW but all MMOs over the past decade have gradually been added in while we gradually adapted to them — to the point, I think, where we honestly have a hard time remembering life without them. To suddenly dive into a game that jumps us back in time, stripping away all of those changes in one go, would be tougher to swallow that some might acknowledge.
It’d be a slower game. There would be some fun as people spent a lot more time in the old world lands that they once loved, and I’m sure that there would be a pretty hardcore community that would develop. But some of the people who would clamor for such a server would find themselves becoming very frustrated with its limitations: the very narrow endgame, the lack of casual-friendly content in higher levels, not getting a mount until 40, and so on.
But for the record, if Blizzard put a vanilla WoW server out, then yes, I’d give it a try. It could be really interesting if done right, and I think that there was a genuine magic to the original game that the expansions have eroded even as they’ve added new features.
“My recent playing experience has me convinced that World of Warcraft is a lot less fun today than it was in its vanilla days. This isn’t nostalgia talking — I wasn’t even playing WoW until after Burning Crusade released. But let’s say I’ve confirmed it and leave it at that.”
Six years ago to the month, World of Warcraft released its very first expansion pack. At the time I was a year away from becoming a blogger, still living in my old apartment, and enjoying my first year with my wife. Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time passes, how these things that happened *years* ago feel like yesterday.
I was getting nostalgic for WoW lately, not enough to make me want to play it, but nostalgic in the sense of “I miss the old days, not what the game is now even though I know it’s technically better.” WoW at the turn of The Burning Crusade felt like an incredible, magical time for the game. It had become established as the premier MMO with a massive following, and I had just hit level 60 with my new Gnome Warlock who I had named Syp. When we heard the news that there would be an expansion, everyone went bananas. I mean, the game had never had one before. We really didn’t know what to expect. And we’d been slowly going stir-crazy in the same zones for over two years at that point.
There was a big to do at the portal gate in Azeroth prior to the expansion, and players such as myself who participated were treated to a tabard that shot out sparks every minute or so. A cool little doodad. Then came the night of the release. It was one of the only — and the very last — times that I ever went to a store for a midnight release to get my copy. My wife thought I was nuts. I probably was. It was cold, being January in Michigan, and I had to stand in a line outside with a whole bunch of strangers who made me profoundly uncomfortable. As soon as I snagged my copy, I rushed hope to install it and make my new characters.
I was reading something on WoW Insider not too long ago where the author was bashing TBC as not that great of an expansion in retrospect, which I guess was his opinion and okay. But he did say something that rang true, which is that whatever expansion WoW players first encountered seemed like it became the expansion that defined their experience and memories of the game. I was probably more of a vanilla WoW player than anything, but TBC definitely left a huge impression on me.
Going through the dark portal to Outland for that first time was… incredible. I took many, many screenshots. Outland was so alien of a place, but it was new and exciting. Up to that point in WoW history, the quest flow of the old world wasn’t the best, especially in the higher levels, but Outland featured a much more refined hub-quest model that provided enough XP and kept things moving. Within a day, we all replaced our old gear with new (“green is the new purple” was the catchphrase of the time). A bazillion people were in the first Outland zone, which made questing difficult (but not impossible).
I alternated with Syp and a brand-new blueberry space alien hunter named Ghostfire. Those new races still seem exotic to me, even as they’ve long since become the old guard. I loved the Draenei look and alien tech aesthetic, and I do wish that I had stuck with my Shaman that I also rolled back then. Those totems looked wicked cool.
TBC created so many memories for me. Who didn’t fall to death in Shatt a few hundred times? Or didn’t complain about the poop-scooping quest? Or wasn’t kind of in awe of the beauty of Nagrand? It was the only expansion of pretty much any MMO where I became, temporarily, a raider. Kara was such a fun instance to explore with a 10-man group. Again, it feels like all of that was just yesterday.
Even with the new areas and tighter quest flow, TBC wasn’t without its flaws. I still don’t think that Outland meshes well with the rest of the game, zone-wise, especially with all of the subsequent expansions. I still maintain that flying mounts was a big mistake that trivialized exploration and content, a stance that feels backed up by how the devs had to keep coming up with excuses to “ground” us for the new expansions so we wouldn’t just fly over challenges. The music was so-so, probably my least favorite of all of the expansions. And the dailies were not enjoyable at all.
Wrath of the Lich King was a fine expansion and a lot of fun to return to later on, Cataclysm got my attention for about a week before losing it, and I sincerely doubt (but never say never) that I’ll see Mists of Pandaria’s content. For me, The Burning Crusade was THE expansion of the game during my career there, and I still can’t believe it’s been six years.
“To this day, my husband and I giggle about the time when we were playing on a WoW PvP server and some undead rogue kept ganking us. And then, realizing he was outmatched, he jumped into the water (since undead can stay underwater longer). Welp, as a druid I shapechanged into a seal so as to swim faster and catch up with him. Plus, seals can stay underwater indefinitely. I chased him down and beat him to death with mah flippers (very slowly).”