I was speaking to a friend at the weekend about World of Warcraft, the game that he quit three years ago. He stated that enough time had gone by that he wanted to come back, but not to the current game, the one that he fell in love with 8 years ago. We talked about stupid things we had done in the game, at a time when it took several months to level from 1 - 60. Of course it was possible to go faster but we were sampling everything the game had to offer, every instance and every quest.
This got me thinking about whether for all the changes do we now have a better game than when we first started?
The original game had a very slow levelling curve. Levelling was as important as the endgame. The endgame was very poor and raiding was introduced in various stages throughout the lifetime of vanilla.
Mists of Pandaria introduce a new class and race. It was possible with the Monk's increased XP gain, heirlooms and various other XP gains to go from 1-85 in only a few days played. The downside is that you are constantly out levelling zones. Doing one instance will normally gain gear and a few levels. This makes the whole process very disjointed. The speed is ideal for old players creating alts and is terrible for the new player. Blizzard believes that the game starts at endgame.
Levelling was too long in the old game and too short in the new version. As a WoW veteran I prefer the new over the old, but that is only because I have already done the old.
Vanilla WoW actively encouraged exploration, and gear improvements in small chunks. We had no idea about iLevel and every new piece of gear was scrutinised in minute detail. We often got it wrong, with Rogues with strength weapons, Hunters with spirit gear. The stats were as whacky and confusing as Diablo III was when I started playing that.
The new game is fairly straight forward, we are told in game which primary stat to concentrate on, we no longer wear the wrong armour type (warriors in leather gear). The crafting game however is less important than ever. Why craft when Blizzard give us loot island? MoP put a squeeze on crafted gear with soulbound Spirits of Harmony. The solution now is the daily craft routine, create one piece of leather, one piece of cloth, one piece of plate and one engineering widget and in 28 days you can craft an awesome piece of armour or an incredible mount.
In vanilla we actively went farming for mats, relentless killing the same mobs for felcloth and elemental bits and pieces. The more effort involved the more rewarding it was. However that pace of game cannot return. The MMO populace is aging and the youth are not filling the vacated spaces left by the out going retiring players. With age comes changes in lifestyle and less of us have whole weekends of playing WoW and eating pizza. We have not the time to scavenge mercilessly for drops and so we are left with a soulless socialist process. Only the raiders can speed up the process of crafting, and we are left with the choice of use or sell, and who can put a price on 28 days worth cooldowns.
The old system was better but it is now totally unworkable and the new system is worse but boring.
Vanilla WoW was a time of discovery, for some gamers it was the first time playing a MMO, and the first time when there was no Game Over screen. A game that never ends. I never actually made it to the endgame, and was about two weeks behind the masses going into The Burning Crusade. My impression of the endgame was that it was lacklustre. The choices being PvP or Raid. Raid was all about gathering 40 bodies and the endless pursuit of resistance gear. There was strict orders of progression and without the gear from the previous raid it was almost impossible to advance to the next. This caused huge bottlenecks in progress and the number of people who entered the original Naxx was probably in the hundreds, unlike the millions that are currently baying for Garrosh's blood.
MoP is a lifestyle choice, play the game that you want to play. Do you want to Raid with 10 or 25 people or anything in between? With guild and friends and across realms? or with 24 strangers who question your parentage and your IQ?
You can still PvP in a host of battlegrounds, or you can compete against premades, or face the elite of the Arena in 2,3 or 5 man groups. Sadly we have lost the pitched battles of Wintersgrasp and Baradin Hold and for an Expansion about Horde v's Alliance this seems like an odd choice. I think that Blizzard ran out of ideas.
Now we can also look after our farms, battle with our pets and find more treasure than you ever imagined existed on one island.
Vanilla does not hold a candle to the latest expansion in terms of activities, levelling as been replaced with reputation grinds, scenarios, 5 man instances, 5 man heroics, and choices for raids. In fact there was so much content that it was alts that suffered. Alts were a concept that players introduced for differences in play style and to fill the gaps in missing content. Only at the end of the expansion are alts being re-established in players rosters.
Talents and Spells
Vanilla introduced the concept of player growth through a series of choices every few levels. The problem with the old system was the continual need to retrain. After several expansions the whole system was added to and tweaked until it got to a stage were it needed to be completely revamped.
The new system is streamlined, easy to understand and with very wrong options. It is preferable to the old system but it feels sanitised and somehow not as rewarding. Theorycrafting is less important and now we only feel the powersurge every 15 levels or so (depending on expansions). One huge advance in the system was the ability to have dual specialisation allowing Dps/Tank or Dps/Healer or Dps/Dps this is a real lifestyle change that nobody would ever want to lose. Many people have even argued for triple spec, but we now know that Blizzard is firmly against such a move in the near future.
Druids now have four distinct specialisations and Warlocks recently received a complete revamp, due to their declining numbers. Not all classes are currently in a good place and further tweaking can be expected for the next expansion. It is not all bad news, Hunters no longer use mana (WTF was that about). Hunters in the past needed Agility, Stamina, Intellect and spirit/Mp5 no wonder there was a joke about all loot being Hunter Loot.
The new system is better than the old tired system, but it seems rather sterile and for a level 90 you only have 6 choices to customise a character. Spell bloat is still a problem for some classes and others have a boring priority system that is more akin to whack-a-mole than an organised rotation. There are several classes in need of some care an attention and Hunters, Warriors and Paladins have been very vocal. Personally I would add Balance Druid as being the most soulless class to play. Rogue specs are starting to look the same with very little character between them.
On entering WoW for the first time, it was rather daunting about the size of the two continents. We had flight points but you needed to walk to them and it was only at level 40 that we finally gave our feet a rest on a standard land mount, providing you could afford the hefty fee for the mount and the training.
Now we get a boost with the land mounts at level 20, and at level 60 you can fly around Azeroth and the Outlands. It is a huge quality of life improvement, when time is precious, but the result is that world seems a much smaller space. Blizzard discovered that allowing flying during the levelling process decreases the experience dramatically. How boring would the Isle of Thunder and the Timeless Isle be if we could fly around them. Ghostcrawler stated that he wishes they had never been introduced, but the horse has well and truly bolted on that one.
One contentious point about the current expansion is the use of portals. It is one aspect that was introduced and then removed or restricted in previous expansion. They still exist but their use is not comprehensive and I believe that Blizzard would rather not have them in the game. The problem is that max level characters would become increasingly scarce in the two capital cities. The other cities have long since died due to the absence of portals.
The addition of portals would spread the load around and no longer would we all live on our farms but we could hang out in Ironforge or whichever city takes our fancy. Nobody wants to go back to the laggy days of Shattrath and Dalaran.
Mounts at level 40 was a complete disaster, we all have tales of long runs through zones we should not have been in. The Wetlands for the Night Elves was a death trap. Running through the zone at level 10 attracted the attention of every Crocolisks within a half a mile. It was painful and horrible and totally unnecessary.
I would like to see more portals in game, I no longer want to make long journeys between Flight Points so I can go and get a drink. Instant travel is the way to go forward., honestly Blizzard we have seen the landscape and just want to get on with it. On the subject have travel, can Blizzard please re-instate "Have Group Will Travel". It really is the same principal as the portals, some of us have played long enough to not need transportation problems in our lives.
Behaviour or in the case of WoW, bad behaviour is something that as always troubled MMO's but especially WoW. The problems in vanilla were very much different than the problems faced by the game today. In the past we had issues with Gold sellers, beggars and the Barrens Chat. Today we have foul mouthed individuals who like to get their kicks from insulting people in LFR.
I have not seen any beggars in a long time and the last one was asking for 100 Gold donations, how times have changed. Gold sellers can still be seen in the form of Calendar entries but the general shoutouts in trade chat have mostly disappeared. The more gold we have the less a problem that Gold Sellers are.
In my opinion the worst behaviour in game was around Cataclysm. Heroics were tough and LFG was an ugly place to be especially during the Zul's. Battlegrounds which is were I spent my expansion was a foul place to be, even when the Alliance was winning. LFR became the new haunt for the badly behaved and it was not just in words but in deeds that these people excelled. The idiot who caused wipes in Spine of Deathwing needs to be shot, and unfortunately BBB probably brought this behaviour into the limelight.
Changes in reporting players and a move away from LFR to the more relaxed atmosphere of Flex raiding have reduced our contact time with the idiots who choose to spoil rather than enjoy our game.
In vanilla we had a player base that was still learning to play the game. A question in General chat would be met with mostly sensible answers. These days nobody has the time to answer or nobody cares anymore. The general feeling is that you need an internet connection to play the game so why not just google it.
Flex as moved the focus back to the Guild, and the Guild is far friendlier place to be. People at least try to be nice, well they do in my Guild and it has been stable environment for more than the three years that I have festered in it. Vanilla was not a terrible place to be, but without LFR, life is sweet.
People were generally nicer, friendly and more helpful during vanilla, and they needed to be. Group content was everywhere in the beginning, with help often needed for Hogger, Bellygrub, Stitches and Mor'ladim.
The game has seen many changes in the difficulty levels. It would have been almost inconceivable to do the Ironman Challenge in vanilla. Deaths were frequent (Wetlands) and often unexpected (Mor'ladim), instances needed care and attention, or being of a higher level helped. Multiple mobs were hard to handle on some classes, and sprint, vanish and bubbles were at a premium.
The Burning Crusades racked up this difficulty another notch, and with the introduction of Heroics, Blizzard reached new heights in torture. We learned to co-ordinate our runs and use multiple forms of crowd control, we did it slow and methodically.
Wrath of the Lich King was the crash bang whallop expansion and people shot through Heroics, completed Raids on 4 different settings, and generally did things at high velocity. Heroics that lasted less than 15 minutes became the norm, and we loved our gearscore.
Cataclysm was a return to TBC days, and it turned out that people did not want TBC they wanted Lich King style action. Random groups did not like to take things slowly and use CC, and healers did not to go OoM. and deaths and wipes became the new norm.
MoP is different from anything before and it will be the template for all future content. Make the general content medium difficulty, and let the Hardcore bang their heads against a scaled up version. We can now play the same game as though it has difficulty settings. Run your challenge modes, your Heroic raids, the majority are going to take the middle of the road. The funny thing is that, Blizzard have finally struck the right balance.
World of Warcraft means more to us when everything was shiny and new. The game is tainted by our memories of discovery and exploration. We look back fondly at a time when we believe that we enjoyed the game the most. The current expansion is still being played out in bedrooms and computer rooms across the globe. We have not yet had time to evaluate and compare the expansion and place it in a rank of our favourite expansion.
The point I am trying to make is that in general we have a better game than at any point, and although Blizzard are still making errors of judgement they still have the ability to assess the weaknesses of the game and steer it in the right direction.
Endgame content will feature dailies and reputation in the future, what Blizzard will not do is gate a faction behind another faction, or spread gear far and wide across multiple factions. The likelihood is that factions will only have vanity items in the future and that Valor and Justice will become more important than they are today for gearing characters. Scenarios and cutscenes will be used for storytelling purposes within reputation grinds, commendation for alts rep may or may not exist depending on the vanity/gear rewards. There is no point being exalted on multiple characters with a faction that sells mounts and pets. Blizzard have used four very distinct and different content patches, and whilst we might feel like lab rats, the results will guide future expansions.
The current patch as overcompensated for previous issues in the expansion, and right now it is possible to any of the following:
- To level an alt quickly
- Gear an alt quickly
- Go end game raiding at four different levels
- Go raiding with any number of friends between 10 and 25
- Defeat a faction leader
- Catch up on reputation grinds
- Create a very good item of gear every month
- Level cooking and blacksmithing in one location
- Live on a farm
- Collect three of every vanity pet
- Have battles with your pets
- PvP in PvE gear (sort of)
- PvE in PvP gear
- Join a fight club
- Run timed Heroics in scaled down gear
- Fish to impress Nat Pagle
- Change the stats on our gear (within reason)
- Change the look of our gear