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I’ve mentioned previously how my husband’s on something of an extended hiatus from the game. When I’ve asked him why, his reply has always been the same: it’s just no fun any more, there are better things to do. However, when I pin him down for specifics, one always leaps out as being significant. He, like me, misses a part of the experience that was, for a time, all that Warcraft was about. Loot, like it or not, was largely irrelevant.

The joy of exploration has pretty much vanished from current game play.

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Exploration now is finding secrets, uncovering the World map, not dying when you get dazed off your mount. Once upon a time, when the game was new, exploration was what happened every time you logged on. On the glorious journey from 1-60, everything was an adventure and each new zone excitement. Now, that joy is lost each time an Expansion gets you to max level. This fact has clearly not been lost on the designers and with 7.3 there is a whole new world to explore… except, this is no longer a vast, free expanse of land you can pick and choose to uncover. It is a gated, horribly linear experience that only becomes free if you can un-phase the various parts, in the right order.

It is, in effect, exactly the opposite of what the game so badly needs.

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Using Argus as a ‘living’ world that you clear in real time, before returning it to a static, unchanging landscape is, I suspect, the best way the designers could come up with to solve the problem that has plagued Azeroth since TBC’s launch: narrative stability. After the disaster of Cataclysm, which altered the long-term sanctity of the Old World so much that people could not cope with ‘sacred’ paces being defiled, phasing tech gives the best of all worlds. The ‘base’ layer of the phase ends up as where you’ll spend most of your time, but only once you’ve removed the ‘storytelling’ layers, which bought you there to begin with. It keeps the majority happy, as there is an illusion of linear time. However, that is all it is: once you’ve told the story and the phases vanish, that’s it, you’re stuck with the base phase until something better comes along.

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Designers understand this is an issue: that’s why they invented all the new Holidays in game this year, as a means of trying to shove relevancy into the Old World. It is why ‘events’ such as Chromie’s give the illusion of a living, constantly evolving game world, when that is often anything but the case. The problem, at least in my mind, is very simple. All content is current, not simply that presented in an Expansion. There is at least a move with the ‘mount’ secrets to bury new material into the Old world, but it does not reinvent what is there, or allow a redevelopment of existing zones. There is no real desire to inspire wonder, simply to present linear, mathematical problems and puzzles.

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This is particularly depressing from a personal point of view when one now sees Argus wherever one goes in the game. Completing quests in Azeroth on the 1-60 path, and having this World ever present is just narratively wrong on so many levels. It is almost an insult to the game that has been left behind, but which designers are happy to cherry pick and choose the most ‘epic’ elements from in order to make Legion more attractive. You can’t blame them, of course, because in many case the people who made those expansions no longer work for the Company, and if your desire as a designer is to create new worlds and not recycle the old… except that’s Azeroth’s job now. It provides content for two spin offs, responsible for Overwatch’s development as a first person shooter and not a ‘replacement’ MMO.

Azeroth is, in effect, a victim of it’s own overreaching success.

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In the end, the loss of my husband as a player may only be temporary, it will largely depend on what is bought to the table during Blizzcon, as is often the case in situations such as these. For me however, this Expansion has fundamentally altered how I choose to consume content. A lot of it is to do with personal choice, however I won’t lie: I’m not happy with the direction in which the game is moving. I too would love a return to the days where loot was of secondary importance, but when you look at the monetisation goals for Activision Blizzard in general, plus their long term objectives, the future remains me creating my own content using the medium of Legacy gaming. The fact that so much of Legion is already being considered by me in those terms might yet give the designers pause for thought, we will see.

For now, I create the joy of exploring in other ways.

6 thoughts on “Walk on By

      • But if any such game appeared, would it get the attention of WoW players? I think in most cases the answer is no, at least not for long. WoW players don’t want a game of their dreams. They want WoW to be that game of dreams. Because the ties of nostalgia and habit that keep them playing Actiblizz’s product are too hard to sever. It’s as much a psychological/sociological problem as it is a design/marketing one.

        And WoW won’t ever be one such game. It owes it’s success precisely to restrictions on freedom, to direction, to being a “theme-park” as opposed to a “sandbox”. To being about winning, not freeform spontaneous gameplay.

        There were sandboxes in the meantime and most remained relatively niché, Eve Online biggest of them all, a game that kept the mathematics but allowed more freedom. With no or little mathematics we have Animal Crossing and the giant of Minecraft. There’s still Second Life I think. None is a permanent world in a fantasy style with decent graphics, but is this missing piece enough of a base for a new thing? The fantasy sandboxes that did appear and I heard of but don’t remember the titles, remained a small fare. Even Ultima Online never reached a fraction of WoW’s numbers, even during its heyday.

        I’m sure a huge part of the delight of playing WoW for many is the feeling of being part of something big. But if there’s a gap in the market, it’s only big enough to be filled with an indie title. Because it involves a huge risk with little pay-off, one that big companies do not deal in.

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      • Hearthstone and HotS show Blizz can do something extra with its IP. Remember Minecraft was an indie game that no one knew they wanted to play. Maybe Gary’s Mod crossed with Wurm, set in the Warcaft world set prior to the film – so virgin world for exploring, with the ability to create Eve like corporations but based around the established races and factions. Freeform RP and PVP.

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  1. It’s an old problem for many years now.

    Like it or not, I think using old content as a base for current expansion is not what most people want. Or they think they don’t want it, but the result is the same. What they feel they want is things “new and shiny”. Otherwise it will generate bad publicity of “rehashing content”. Each time Blizz is using assets from old world in the new this accusations come up (eg. Emerald Nightmare). The current usage of old content in profession/class hall/mount/holiday quests is the biggest yet and it’s the compromise catering to the niché of players that sees all the world as current. As big a compromise as we’re gonna get, I fear. The moaning in the chat of “OMG why do I have to go there” is ever present.

    There are other aspects to this complex problem. The size of Azeroth and compatibility issues of old zone scripting with new systems for once. The development resources required to treat each zone in the game on equal terms would be enormous. The graphical disparity between the old and the new. Again, updating all of this, when most of the playerbase wouldn’t care or even consider it a sacrilege to nostalgia? Huge gamble.

    Much of the old magic was due to slow speed of levelling, but making it any slower would go against the wishes of many players who would love if it went even faster.

    But the main issues are two. A) the game’s old and everyone struggles with that. The playerbase straddles the psychological conundrum of nostalgia and desire for new, so neither will ever work and both will leave people dissatisfied more and more as time goes on. They cling to the memories when at the same time being bored of them. B) this is a huge game and actiblizz is a huge company. They don’t have a luxury of an indie game to precisely target a specific type of a player. They have to constantly compromise and toss a little scrap to everyone, even if everyone is composed of dramatically opposed playstyles.

    Remember, there was a game that tried to bring back a lot of the “old WoW” vibe and it failed spectacularly so the devs had to make it a copy of current WoW again. That game was “Wildstar”.

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  2. eventually to end back with people chanting for vanila servers. I’ll be honest Legion is way more fun than WoD – i didn’t plauy til Cata, so have missed the Wotlk experience when it was current – but my first play through on my first toon, with no looms was great – just very lonely.

    The other thing to point out, is that when you play a game for 10 years its not just the game that gets older – but Blizzards target market segment remains the same – we move through it. The game will only get changed to suit where the player basde growth is going to come from. I don’t like the look of the games my 15 year old son plays – Warframe \ Overwatch \ Destiny. WoW seems to have always stoled ideas from other places and them polished them a lot (just like Apple). So it is logical that they will continue to borrow from popular games of the day and a day will come when I find the game is no longer what i want to play.

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