Has it really been eleven years since World of Warcraft came out? I mean, it is, but it’s still kind of amazing to me how much time has gone by and that WoW is firmly in the two-digit MMO club.
To indulge in a little nostalgia, on Saturday night I loaded up the game and spent a half-hour or so puttering around the Draenei newbie area. While much has certainly changed about the game as a whole, this little zone is more or less identical to how I first experienced it back in Burning Crusade. Same angry plants muttering and stomping around. Same shield that floats about four inches off of my forearm or back. The only thing different that I saw was the addition of a monk trainer and some better spellcasting effects for the Shaman’s lighting attack.
Enough time has passed now so that there have been more years that I haven’t been seriously playing WoW than when I was (the scale tipped over the past year). It’s a game and culture that I’ve been following as an outsider and former player, having mostly moved on and yet recognizing that WoW left a deep imprint on me at the same time. I was talking with my fellow Battle Bards the other day about how the art and music of this game have such appeal, a warm comfy blanket of feels that can almost cover the jarring changes and constant shifts of design.
Lately I’ve been pondering why Blizzard disturbs me with its design approach to WoW. I don’t have a direct dog in that fight, but I still do care on some level. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that the studio keeps changing its systems and design philosophy — after all, change is a core tenant of MMOs — but that it’s frequently so drastic that it gives me the impression that Blizzard has no confidence in its design or decisions. It keeps wildly course correcting from expansion to expansion, sometimes making things better and many times making them worse. For me, it created an atmosphere of uncertainty, knowing that the studio might well abandon a hot new feature the second a new expansion arose or that the class I enjoyed today might well be really different tomorrow with yet another one of the class revamps.
Change isn’t bad. But you’d think after 11 years World of Warcraft would be settled into a comfortable and profitable groove, knowing what works best for the game and its community. Instead, it still seems like the design team is trying to figure it out.
I do regret having jumped off the train back in 2008 or so. The more years that pass, the harder it is to ever get back into a game, especially one that’s been reinventing itself and adding more top-heavy content. I don’t quite blame either the studio or players for taking that fast-pass to level 100 to avoid having to deal with what’s come before.
For me, the best parts of WoW were always the small details. That familiar music, making a zone seem bigger or more personal than it actually was. The clever little animations on enemy NPCs (I liked the treants dying by being sliced in half and looking surprised at it). The gong/crash sound of accepting and turning in quests. The touches that made a zone’s ecosystem seem less generic and more fantastical.
I appreciate WoW having the option to explore 20 levels as a newbie or vet without needing to sub up. For those like me who need to satisfy a nostalgic craving now and then, it’s perfect and easier on the pocketbook (disclaimer: I cannot remember the last time I had a pocketbook or what a pocketbook actually is). I apologize to the mutated plants and angry owlkin that I slaughtered; I can only say that I was acting under orders.
Congrats to WoW for 11 years. Hope the decade ahead of it treats the game and its community well and that Blizzard does find a groove that works well for everyone.