In a recent interview, Blizzard's Vice President of Creative Development apologized for the game play choices made by the developers in the first expansion to the highly popular World of Warcraft. He stated the game play in The Burning Crusade "had a lot of high-concept ideas, high-concept environments, but other than some really nice moments, there was nothing really personal about it." Its no secret that the Burning Crusade was a let down for a lot of WoW players, who hoped for the epic highs and lows of the pre-expansion world.
Are developers trying to rewrite the formula when they release expansions, or should they stick to the tried and true? Can they continue to tell the stories of their worlds, holding players rapt in their narratives, and coming up with interesting and unique encounters, or should it always be more of the same?
Metzen seems to be looking for something new in the newly announced WoW expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, but can he achieve these goals? Will he be able to re-create the feel of pre-expansion WoW by building on stories and zones that Blizzard fans already know and love? Or is it built into the metrics of game design that sequels and expansions for MMOs will never have the same feel as the launch titles?
One proposed way Blizzard can bring players back into the game, making them feel more involved in the world would be to create world-changing events. An example of this would be the opening of the Ahn'Qiraj gates. Though the event itself had problems of its own, with some servers held ransom by enterprising guilds, overall the feel from the players was one of involvement in the world they have not felt since.
From the very moment the story for the opening of Ahn'Qiraj started, players flocked to the quest givers and event zones, flooding the market with overpriced rewards, endlessly killing monsters to get the drops needed to be the first person or server to open the gates. It built a community within the already tightly knit WoW player base, with both factions working together to be the first to get their hands (or hooves) on the new content.
It was then when I first felt like a hero, standing at the gates when they were opened for the first time on Icecrown (the fifth server in North America to finish the event). I could proudly say, "I did that", even if I had only made bandages and mined ore for it.
I truly hope that Blizzard recreates this type of player driven event in the upcoming expansion, or that Metzen will be able to come up with new ways to make players feel like they are involved. It may be an impossible dream, but I for one, am glad that someone is going after it.