Yes, ashamed as I am to admit it, I am guilty of effectively pissing away three years of my life playing Blizzard’s hugely successful online role-playing game World of Warcraft.
Now, I have never really been a fan of Massively Multi-player Online (MMO) games. I play games online from time to time, but I usually prefer the single player, story- and character- driven experience. EVE, Star Wars Galaxies and others never managed to suck me in, but for some reason WoW kept me interested. This week I wanted to try and work out what it was that made WoW different.
Obviously this is a huge game and I can’t cover everything, so I’m going to focus on a few of the key good and bad points of my experience. I should probably point out that I wasn’t in it from the beginning. I only joined shortly before the ‘Burning Crusade’ expansion was launched and played until left about a year after the following expansion: ‘Wrath of the Lich King’.
My Play Experience
I ended up playing WoW mostly on my own or with small groups of real-life friends. You might well say that this defeats the point, but it was just how I wanted to play most of the time.
It has to be said that it is also a result of interacting with other people, one of the biggest problems of playing online for me! Whether it was begging for Gold, the hardcore players with no life or social skills bossing people around, enemy players attacking me without provocation or other people stealing my kills and messing up my progress, I had so many bad experiences that I was put off interacting with other people unless I really had to. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time in WoW, and had some great experience with the group content, but if you’re thinking of playing it, as with most online games, you should be prepared for just how many people out there are absolute dicks!
I took part in some large scale raids, but I really felt no sense of identity or individual achievement; you never seem to have a permanent effect on the world in any way. This, I think, is one of my biggest problems with WoW. Even in the few areas that do support a form of progression based on your actions, you still cannot escape the feeling that 12 million other ‘chosen ones’ are doing the exact same thing…
I think that Blizzard made an excellent decision in choosing the stylised art style of WoW. While it is now starting to show its age, the style choice means that it has survived quite well. This has been helped by regular improvements to things such as shadow, water and lighting effects. At one point, the spells were updated with new effects, a fairly minor change, but it somehow made the spells feel more awesome. This constant stream of improvements and attention to detail is one thing I like about Blizzard.
One major issue I have is with character customisation. Now, it is a fairly expansive, robust system and I was able to create a character with a set of weapons, armour, spells and talents that suited my playing style. I even did a group missions and we got through them with no problem, I was really starting to like this amazing, customised character that I had created. Then I made a terrible mistake and went into a dungeon with some of the hardcore people. Then I was told that my character was ‘wrong’. You see, each class of character can be adapted to fulfil one of the ‘trinity’ of roles: ‘tank’ (take damage and keep enemy units’ attention), ‘damage’ (killing lots of stuff quickly) and ‘Healer’ (pretty self explanatory, I should think).
Basically, you don’t get to go in groups with hardcore folk if you don’t have a character that is specifically designed to fulfil one of these roles. So I reluctantly rebuilt my character with a different mixture of items, talents etc. in order to more closely fulfil the ‘tank’ role. I was good at it too, but it wasn’t really the character that I wanted to be, and the combination of talents seemed to slow my progress through the rest of the game. I look forward to a game where you can create a character the way you want and use it in groups without such restrictions (something Guild Wars 2 is claiming it will be able to do). Such a system would also mean you don’t have to wait for a good healer before being able to do the content, another major problem with the game.
Audio is something that I pay particular attention to, and which disappoints me in most games, but WoW deserves a special mention, as most of the in-game audio is great. The music, particularly in the recent expansions has been excellent. I’ve played it on numerous occasions with my headphones on and the mixture of music, environment sounds, the crunching of snow underfoot etc., is amazing.
I still have a problem with all of the quest info being displayed through text boxes, the equivalent to the characters holding up a sheet of card with instructions written on it. There were many times where I found myself ignoring this text and just focusing on the important lines: “Kill X of Y” or “Steal whats-it from whats-his-face”. However it should be pointed out that the amount of voice work has increased recently, which is a definite step in the right direction and a big boost to the games immersion.