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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.