My third lament this week is exploration, and how the game has lost the sense of wonder that inevitably resulted from the opening of a new Expansion. Having tried to recreate this in Argus (and having been met with part frustration and part huge repair bill) I feel there’s certainly some wiggle room when it comes to improving the sense of wonder at a new zone. I feel the problem, simply put, is that everything in Azeroth is about the visual. It can’t be new or shiny unless there’s some fancy effect associated with it. The new caster animations are a case in point: I really hate the fact my Mage looks like she’s doing an interpretive dance, instead of killing stuff with frost.
I didn’t ask for this, but still got it anyway.
The other laugh out loud moment is a the animation for a Void Tear, which enough women have described as looking like lady-parts for it not to be a co-incidence. What that animation does however is make you click it, and it then takes you into an instance, because that’s how all content now functions: you have the ‘base’ landscape (which is where you return once questing is done) and then layer (or several) placed on top of that individual content until you reach the end. This is possibly the biggest reason why exploration no longer has relevance. If you ask the RP people how they feel about ‘sharding’ (means by which server load is minimised by creating multiple copies of the same place when one gets too ‘full’) they’ll probably be as dismissive as I am.
Sometimes, it is not about creating the impression of busy, but rather the joy of vastness and ‘being alone.’
This is probably the largest single disconnect that exists in game for me at present, apart from the ‘why can I only save my own faction/quest one way’ issue that has existed since the game began. There is a basic understanding as a result that certain things are intractable; two sides to PvP, baddies and goodies (and often the only in-between so clearly defined as to be laughable) and the list goes on. Exploration is, ultimately time consuming: how can I be asking for more stuff to do on a mobile app in one breath and more adventure on the other? Well, you can have both. Ironically, Warlords used the concept of exploration brilliantly, especially combined with the ‘vignette’ concept when collecting treasures. I remember the artist in Shadowmoon Valley, whose chest you raided for an item that vended for copper, telling you to understand the real reward was the view he was painting.
In the overriding desire to just get stuff out to a deadline, an important element of wonder has been lost.
With ‘that flight argument’ still fresh in the memory, everything now in game revolves around convenience: which vendors to hit first, what currencies to grind. The fact that people have literally months to prepare doesn’t help build a sense of either wonder or joy. I can remember quite vividly when TBC was due, seeing a video of the landscape for the first time, when only a select few got the chance to play in beta. Back then, of course, there were perilously few means for instantly sharing knowledge as exists now, and certainly not an army of streamers who know how many followers they can rack up with ‘exclusive’ pre-game content. In effect, Azeroth has become a victim of its own, often distressing hype. It isn’t simply a case of saying ‘right, not gonna read the Internet’ any more to avoid it, either.
Everyone loves telling you the news first. That simply drains the life from exploration completely.
I’m not sure how the designers can fix this either, and looking at current advertising materials for the latest Hearthstone expansion, part of me thinks that maybe, they don’t want to. Tastes are quite rapidly changing, and what I want from a game is a long way from what is ‘popular.’ Maybe my future is watching videos like Casper’s and simply remembering what used to be, and that this game is now far too huge and unwieldy to ever alter in such a way.
Maybe those people who advocated Vanilla Servers really had a point.