World of Warcraft: 11 years later


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.

5 most immersive MMOs I’ve played to date


Game immersion is perhaps one of the most subjective and indefinable qualities when it comes to MMOs. We know in our gut when we feel more drawn into one virtual world over another, yet it might be difficult if not impossible to explain why.

So instead of fiddling around with definitions, today I want to share five MMOs out of my entire resume that were the most immersive that I’ve played — and why.

Fallen Earth

There’s no doubt that Fallen Earth is a messy title that’s perhaps a little too rough around the edges. It never broke into the big time, that’s for sure. But even so, I was so in love with this game and its breathtaking ambition to create a living, breathing post-apocalyptic world. From the black humor to the mounts that stayed put where you left them to the weird factions and the vivid sunsets over the desert, I always felt drawn into this title like no other. Plus, crafting everything you end up using made those items feel more precious.

Lord of the Rings Online

One of the reasons that I stuck with LOTRO for so long was that, unlike so many other MMOs, it felt like a cohesive world that played by a predefined set of rules instead of ones that the devs made up on the fly. I’d argue that having to fit under the umbrella of a rich IP actually helped to create a world that felt “real,” so to speak. So many times I would lose myself in traversing the lands where it wasn’t just endless packs of mobs, but civilization clashing with the wild and with evil. And I can’t discount that incredible music for drawing me in as well!

The Secret World

TSW’s brilliance is not just in its storytelling (which is magnificent) but in its meticulously crafted world that bleeds over into ours. In fact, the myriad of ways that the developers blurred the line between game and reality broke down that fictional barrier in part and allowed me to believe (or at least pretend very hard) that I was actually part of what was going on on the other side of the screen.

World of Warcraft

Maybe we’re all like this with MMOs that we’ve spent so much time in, but my previous passion for World of Warcraft and the countless hours that I poured into it took my understanding of Azeroth beyond a mere game and into a much more personal space. The little details — the sounds, the animations, the locations, the music — swirled together to form a world that was vividly immersive for years. I miss feeling that way about it, I won’t lie.

Anarchy Online

I’ll probably chalk Anarchy Online’s immersive abilities up to it being one of the first MMOs that I played, even though I felt pretty lost in it at the time. It’s “alien” nature set it apart from fantasy CRPGs and made it feel other, different, and alluring. At no point was I looking beyond the immediate details of the world to number crunch or break down mechanics, which is a sign that I was pretty content just being instead of mastering.

So those are my five. What are yours?

The new MMO hotness: Blindfolds

blind1You want to project a certain type of kickbutt, invincible hero with a darker side to others?

blind2Throw in a class or race that wears a blindfold! How leet are you when you don’t even need your eyes to fight?

blind3And the best part of it all? You’ll be the only MMO doing it!

World of Warcraft: Legion’s most pressing question wasn’t answered yesterday

legionLots of excitement and interest bubbled up around World of Warcraft’s expansion reveal at Gamescom yesterday. I was at a Chinese restaurant eating lunch while keeping an eye on my Twitter feed, but that served to give me most of the salient details.

So. Legion. As many others have noted, once you digest the whole announcement you’re left with two primary impressions: It’s more of the same and it’s trying to piggy-back off of The Burning Crusade. Neither of which, I want to note, is a bad thing. Sequels and continuity can be great if done right, and WoW doesn’t have the greatest track record of shaking the boat and introducing radical new features (Cataclysm’s world revamp and Draenor’s garrisons both ended up flopping pretty hard).

Blizzard continues to sample neat ideas that have been proven elsewhere in the MMO industry, like WildStar’s (and Metroid’s) double-jumping or LOTRO’s legendary items. Both of which I’d steal if I was making an MMO, so there you go.

I do want to know what these class order halls are and what, exactly, Blizzard is doing with garrisons (abandoning them, I would think, as it did with Pandaria’s farm). A true housing system would have been a welcome addition, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that. Demon Hunter? Even if this wasn’t Elf-only, it’s just another melee tank… with horns.

I can’t help but be pretty underwhelmed by this whole announcement, even past the bias as an ex-player. WoW’s huge subscription dip needed something truly inspiring and exciting to counter it, and instead of knocking it out of the park Blizzard is settling for a triple play.

However, the biggest question of the announcement wasn’t answered yesterday, although I didn’t think it would be. And that’s the question of when it will be releasing. With beta promised this year, one can assume an early-to-mid spring 2016 release, which means that World of Warcraft has to weather the better part of a year without a major patch release, trusting in the excitement of an upcoming expansion to sustain player interest.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about Legion at BlizzCon and maybe there are a few curveballs not revealed yet. Maybe. And if it can’t be a major game-changer, a well-done expansion with tons of content to keep the population happy would be a welcome substitute in any case.

Pirates, expansions, Gorgon, servers, and builds

pirateIt’s time for a grab-bag Thursday post! Let’s see, what shall we talk about first… how about pirates?

Marvel Heroes: Last night I made it my mission to acquire the free Pirate Deadpool team-up from the secret achievement chain that was recently added to the game. Not that I really needed another team-up — I’m pretty much swimming in them at this point — but free is free, and who wouldn’t want a sarcastic pirate shadowing them?

Start to finish, it took me about an hour and a half to do. The tricky part was that most of the achievements didn’t trigger until I teleported back to a hub, which meant that I kept having to head back to see if I had acquired the next step or not. I took Squirrel Girl along for this one because she can roflstomp just about anything now and that’s pretty fun to see.

Our new guild, Massively Underpowered, is growing by leaps and bounds! It’s great to see bloggers, friends, and MOP readers join the conversation. If you want to hook up with us, look for Sypster, Braxwolf, or Angyll in-game.

Project Gorgon: It’s really exciting to see the Kickstarter continue to push forward, as it’s growing by $1-2K a day. Up to $16,400 as of this writing and plenty of time left. Here’s hoping they shoot past the goal this weekend and get a lot more than expected by the time all is said and done. I’m glad that it’s getting more press and word-of-mouth this time around.

World of Warcraft: Looks like Blizzard is going to announce the newest expansion next week instead of waiting until November’s BlizzCon, which is a smart move. Lots of anxious and disgruntled WoW players out there over the short expansion cycle, so here’s hoping that Blizzard is going to not only tell the community what the expansion is but also announce that it will be coming a lot sooner than expected.

Lord of the Rings Online: I still haven’t re-installed LOTRO since getting the new computer so I’m not part of the current drama/migration of the server merges. It is something that needed to happen, and I can only pray that Turbine handles it smartly without shredding too many of its sub-communities.

SWTOR: I ran a flashpoint last night — the Nar Shaddaa one, I forget the name — and started to doubt my Twi’lek’s destiny as a healer. Oh, I healed just fine, although it is frustrating to do so with such a limited array of tools. I don’t know how the bodyguard heals at higher levels, but right now it feels like running around with bandaids when people are losing limbs.

So I did take a peek at the two DPS builds for the merc and mulled over if I want to keep pushing forward as a healer or to just wimp out and give myself some serious firepower. No change yet, but long slogs through flashpoints while tossing out ineffectual heals and overheating are not endearing me to healing right now.

Flying in World of Warcraft is back on

flyingI have two strong opinions about World of Warcraft’s flying mounts: It was a mistake to put them in this particular game. But once they were in, it was an even bigger mistake to try to ground them.

It takes an act of incredible player force to change Blizzard’s mind about game direction, I’ve noticed, but it has happened on occasion, including yesterday. After having freaked out the game’s population (which had just shrunk by three million, mind you) by saying that there would be no flying in Draenor and perhaps forever after, Blizzard changed its mind and said that it would allow it after all. After a hideous grind, of course.

I love the reluctant, said-through-gritted-teeth tone of the dev watercooler on this: “We appreciate the spirited discussion on the topic of flying.” Yeah. I bet you appreciated it. I bet you woke up every morning, stared at the piles of angry emails, grumpy reddit threads, negative press, and upset blogs and went, “Boy, I appreciate this!”

No, this is Blizzard reluctantly turning its course — and perhaps finding a compromise between its vision and what the players want and have become used to. Like it or not, Blizzard made its bed with the whole flying thing and it can’t wriggle out of it even if it is — just now, for some reason — realizing that it isn’t always the best thing for the game. Players have become used to it. Players generally like it. And players have even bought the flying mounts that Blizzard has sold for cash on the store. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to sell something for money that you’ll later disable.

Anyway, I’m glad that even a giant MMO studio can still respond — gradually, reluctantly — when its made a mistake and players unite to push back against it. Players shouldn’t bully studios into capitulating, but there should definitely be give-and-take between both sides in the development process.