July 15, 2009

WoW, That's a Disappointment

So, it's a little over a month now until the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center open their doors, and BlizzCon, Blizzard's multi-day extravaganza, begins. Obviously, this is a big deal not just for fans of Diablo and Starcraft, but for WoW players too. Honestly, we're expecting to hear a new expansion pack announced, and that's pretty exciting stuff. But while another 10 levels, a new set of questing zones, a new profession, and all that jazz does sound great... that's not at the top of my list of what I want Blizz to announce for WoW. I want to hear some about how they're going to make old content more compelling, because frankly, they've failed pretty hard at that. (Yes, this is gonna be a WoW post).

It's been nearly five years since WoW took the industry by storm, and seized the title of Biggest MMO Ever. Interestingly, the previous title holder, Everquest, also ran for five years before being dethroned, and produced eight expansion packs in that time. WoW, for comparison, has only produced two, and if they do announce a third, we likely won't see it for at the very least half a year anyway. Blizzard is the king of "when it's done"- they really have no qualms at all about pushing back release dates. But back on topic- five years. Five years of improvements to the game, five years of growth and additions. And after five years... the content that made the game great originally is starting to feel stale.

Really, it's a testament to how much Blizzard has grown as an MMO studio when you compare their newest continent, Northrend, to their oldest (or what I would assume is their oldest), Kalimdor. It's not just "Wow, Northrend is so much better!" It's also "Wow, Kalimdor is so terrible." The area design, the quests, the writing, none of it comes close to the level of quality that more recent content offers. It was good for its time, certainly, but now it's outdated. But so what, you say. Who cares? You level past that content, and you never have to worry about it again! This is not only incorrect, but it's also the wrong attitude entirely.

Why is it incorrect? Well, for starters, I've seen plenty of new players be so discouraged by the lower-quality early content that they quit before they ever do see the good stuff! The one month free trial, for instance, has a level 20 cap- thus guarenteeing all you get to see is the first stuff they ever made. WoW was Blizzard's first try at an MMO, and as good as it is... it shows! Areas like Mulgore, the Barrens, Dun Morough... they're boring! The quests are uninspired, far apart, and lacking in variety. The area maps are confusing, and hard to navigate. They just aren't very well designed, meaning no insult to their designers. I couldn't do any better, I'm sure. But the new MMOs that are being released, like Champions Online, like WAR, like (eventually) The Old Republic? They can, and they are doing better. Their newbie areas blow WoW's out of the water! And you know what they say, you never get a second chance at a first impression.

But it's more than that, too. Just because you level a character past the old world Azeroth doesn't mean you'll never go back, far from it. There are achievements that require you to go back- the Explorer and Loremaster achievements, for instance. And even if you choose not to do those, I don't know a single player that doesn't have a low-level alt. Everybody rolls another character, of another class or race or faction, to experience that difference. And that means having to go through the bad design all over again. Blizzard has tried to bandage this by offering new ways to level faster, but that's no fix. It's nice, but basically what they're saying is that they don't intend to fix the old world, that they are content to allow the majority of their game to be subpar, and that's just not okay.

What do I want? I want Blizzard to commit to redesigning old areas. Maybe not complete remakes, but new quests and quest givers, cleaning up the maps (the Barrens... oh god, I have nightmares about the endless stretches of NOTHING in that hellhole), updating some graphics... just making old content good again. Blizzard doesn't want to do this, because it's not exactly something they feel like they can flaunt. They say to themselves, "But we can't use that as a bullet point on the box- wouldn't the time be better spent adding higher level content?" No, no it wouldn't. Because you know what? I know plenty of people who would be overjoyed to try WoW again if the low-level content was made more compelling. Blizzard seems to think of people as either playing WoW or having never given it a shot, and I'm here to say, there are a lot of people that tried it, wanted to like it, but just didn't.

So before you announce your Maelstrom expansion pack, or whatever it turns out to be, Blizzard... let us know that you're not going to continue this ridiculous policy of simply ignoring several thousand quests and two whole continents that are not up to the standards of quality that you yourself have set.

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