Professor Rachele Dalton
7 November 2015
What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been*
There he sat: The mighty Lich King in all his fallen glory. We, as champions of our classes, as the final hope of our factions, have fought our way through the Ice Crown Citadel– slaying unholy monstrosities constructed as instruments of war. For months we were teased and taunted with the prospect of having the defeated Scourgelord’s head as a trophy, and we had finally proven ourselves to be worthy of such an epic challenge. And indeed it was, for despite having conquered all that came before him, it took weeks, nay, months to finally defeat him in combat–after numerous attempts of coming oh, so close to each and every failure.
Times change, however, and since then, we have fought dragons, demons known as Sha, and so many–too many–orcs. The latter of which—and all that they entail—(as part of the most recent expansion pack to World of Warcraft) has caused the player base of W.o.W. to halve in size–from 10 million to 5 million. Many players, such as Neramyr the Priest–a seasoned player–have made comments such as this one:
“It sucks, really, that such a great game has taken such a downturn. I mean, look at Wrath [of the Lich King]; constantly killing undead had such thrills, with the Lich King always teasing us along the way. Even the way most classes play nowadays has been dumbed down to a few buttons, detracting from the once epic and deep gameplay this game once had.”
Neramyr may have a point with the dumbing down, being that talent trees have shrunk in size from 71 points per tree down to around 21 points per tree. With 11, soon 12, classes to choose from, and 3 basic roles to fulfill, one can imagine that giving each specialization its own unique gameplay can be quite a challenge. The addition of Garrisons and the lack of a PvP/PvE balance in this latest expansion pack—Warlords of Draenor—have caused most of the above-mentioned shrinkage in player numbers, which has mainly occurred within the past year though there is much promise in what is to come.
These days, we as a player base just sit in our Garrisons, and while the endgame of raiding has not declined in quality with interesting boss fights, the rest of the game has become mediocre, with not much to do outside of Garrison “maintenance.” Blizzard, the company responsible for producing World of Warcraft (W.o.W.), made the decision to take away the ability of player flight (through enabling a participant’s mount to take wing), thus further reducing the player base’s incentive to leave the Garrison through the lack of mobility. To explain the Garrison, it is Blizzard’s attempt at providing player housing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sit well with most players: In a game where one is supposed to be an adventurer, why would we want a house when we should be adventurers out in the world, interacting with other players?
So, where have Garrisons left the player base? “This game doesn’t feel like an MMO-RPG anymore. It’s just an RPG mixed with freemium gaming. I log on; I do my garrison chores, and then log off. The only other time I log on is for raid nights, and that is only twice a week.” says Rashakan, a veteran warrior. Friends are seldom made these days, and those that are don’t stay long. Players have become isolated, cooped up in their garrisons–only leaving to kill raid bosses, and even those have lost their zing–their flavor in what makes them memorable.
While boss mechanics (e.g. Move out of fire, kill the adds, etc.) have become increasingly more complex and convoluted, the magic isn’t as easy to feel, unless it is your first time attempting to kill a particular boss. The skeletal models for most bosses are larger than those of players, but these very models are nothing more than rehashes of what the players use, or what is out there in the easier questing content players go through to level up.
Moving from the Garrison problem to the PvE vs. PvP balancing act, the problem with W.o.W. grows deeper. PvP, once held as a major source of content through battlegrounds and arenas, was meant to test players on how well they can counter one another. Ill-advisedly, this content has been changed so that it is now treated as nothing more than an afterthought. Hotfixes are applied constantly whenever a new content patch hits, just because one class does one thing too well in PvE. This in turn hurts the same class in PvP–and Blizzard just turns a blind eye, with a bunch of fancy discussions that can be summarized in just one sentence: “Get better at your class, or re-roll into another one.”
This doesn’t seem like how a money-making game should be designed! When players (who in some cases pay enormous amounts of money to Blizzard) are not happy, you would think that the company would want to take their customers’ opinions into account! Most players agree: One of the key parts of the game should be PvP—and it had better not be treated like a side dish. In the most recent content patch, Blizzard has attempted to balance PvP by adjusting how PvE gear works. Most tier sets (collections of gear that are specific to a class), have become almost mandatory to compete in PvE, and with PvE being balanced around these sets, PvP is adjusted to compensate for the lack of these sets.
“Why should I be balanced around the best gear in raids, when I don’t even have this gear while I relevantly clear the raid? That’s like asking for 10 years work experience for an entry-level job. It’s completely self-defeating!” Fyral exclaims, a mage who has played since 2007. The set bonuses themselves can stretch through 3 of the 4 current “difficulties” in the raid, Hellfire Citadel–the exception being LFR, the easiest “difficulty.” LFR also has filler gear meant to be easily replaced through more challenging content.
As a raider, having to already out-gear content in order to compete in said content (just for the sake of balance) doesn’t seem right–but in time this could change. With the next expansion, “Legion” (coming this summer), a lot of newly-proposed modifications to fix these problems is in store. (If, however, there aren’t any new problems–which always seem to arise with these “fixes.”) With all the talk about the current problems that the largest online game has now, what do we have to look forward to–that is to say, what will Legion bring? Blizzard, with all their hubris and empty promises of an adventure for the players, has decided to change how a few things work. For starters, in Legion, the environment will scale to the player’s level, rather than the player to the environment’s level. So regardless of where one is there will always be the threat of being killed by a NPC—thus providing a much-needed challenge to the game.
In addition to the environment changes, PvP is also getting its own talent trees–so balancing PvP and PvE will no longer be a concern, as Blizzard can tune the PvP talent trees so raiding balance can stay the same in both regards. Moreover, to bring complexity back into classes across the board, most are being redesigned mechanically to play differently from each other–this, in an attempt to provide class identity. To top it all off, the new Artifact weapon system is being implemented, granting each and every player a legendary weapon with its own talent tree, and a bunch of different models for each and every weapon. Also, there are to be thirty six different Artifacts, one for each specialization. While the Artifact system will take a lot of development time, the payoff should be worth it, as the player base will finally be able to feel epic throughout the entire experience.
Overall, there are many problems with this game—PvP/PvE balance and Garrisons being the main offenders. But there is hope for Legion: with environmental scaling, PvP talent trees, and Artifact weapons, the game should pick up and provide the challenge it used to entail. The future of W.o.W. requires that Blizzard continue to actually listen to its player base rather than wearing a boot on its head. Hopefully, it cannot continue to ignore us, given that Warlords of Draenor was the product of fingers in ears–and it shows! Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint: Should Legion tank, and the servers are shut down in turn–there are always other games. What’s more, there are definitely other (more productive) things to spend one’s time on!
PvE – Player vs. Environment; This includes questing, 5-man dungeons, and raiding instances, which can ranged from 10-30 players in size, the exception being Mythic, the highest difficulty.
PvP – Player vs. Player; This part of the game includes things like battlegrounds, which pits teams of 10-40 players against each other, or the smaller skirmishes of arenas, which can compose of teams of 2, 3 or 5 players.
Gear – Equipment that a player can use, and for the moment, can be PvE or PvP exclusive.
Talent Tree(s) – A table of abilities or enhancements that a player can choose from, and progress through until the level cap, and from there can be adjusted accordingly.
LFR – Looking for Raid; this is the lowest difficulty of raiding, and the main difference is that instead of players forming the groups, the servers do, and is a lot simpler to queue for.
Hotfixes- Knee-jerk adjustments to the live game that tend to be directed at common bugs, or more dramatically, to fix class balance.
Class – What the player can choose to play, i.e. a Warrior, a Mage, a Priest, etc.
NPC – A non-player character; this can be a raid boss, a bandit to kill for a quest, whatever is in the game that is not played by a player.
MMO-RPG – A Massive-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.
Expansion Pack – Massive updates to the game that are usually tested upon thoroughly, and usually bring a new level cap, a new continent to play in, and whatever else fits the theme.
Adds — Additional NPCs that are usually killed in priority in a raid boss encounter
Specialization — A specific route that a class can take; usually ranges from 2 to 4 per class.
Patch — Somewhat larger than hotfixes yet smaller than expansion packs, these are periodic updates to the live game.
*In reference to an achievement earnable in the game of W.o.W.
I actually enjoyed writing this piece, since I chose a very fun hobby of mine as a topic. I do wish it taught me something though; I wrote it all in one day, with small editions as I wrote it. I already knew how to format, how to structure sentences, etc. So I guess that if anything, I learned how to write an advertisement, at least during the latter part of the piece.
While this paper was fun to write, which loaned to the strength of this paper, it does have its faults. Aside from player interviews, I forgot to cite my sources for the upcoming expansion info. I was also not sure whether to put the key terms at the front or back of the paper, since most of the terminology is rather niche, and the paper itself would make little sense without the list.
Since I was given the choice as to what assignment to post here, I chose something I considered decent, while also choosing something that had less to do with me. A personal essay wouldn’t make that mark, an analysis would be too stale to hold interest in the first place, and a summary/strong response holds too much of my opinion to hold water in an academic setting. Since this was my longest paper of the semester, it would make sense to choose this one, despite the frivolously niche topic. If anything, I wish I could’ve put the pictures up on this site, the ones I used in the original final draft. It’s still an interesting paper regardless of lack of visual aid(s).