My World of Warcraft guild is fairly casual - so why do we already have level 80s? Pre-Wrath of the Lich King we farmed Karazhan. Gruul's Lair and Zul'Aman were regular runs, but we never tackled Black Temple or Sunwell as a guild. We leveled alts, crafted, PvP'd and told bad jokes in guild chat. Despite our relatively casual nature, five of our members hit 80 just two weeks after Wrath of the Lich King's release. There's already talk of running Naxxramas in the not too distant future (perhaps next Sunday A.D.).
I know that's not record speed, but holy crap! If my guild of casual players is quickly level capping, a good percentage of WoW players must also be nearing the end game. There were at least forty of them on my server late last night. It took Blizzard nearly two years to release Wrath and it seems like a lot of people are already prepping for end-game raids. How in the world will this expansion hold players' attentions past Christmas, much less until the next expansion? How long before we hear cries of, "There's nothing to do!"?
Although our guild has several 80s, I'm definitely not one of them. In fact, my main is just a few bars into 72. I'm sure a lot of this boils down to my available playtime. As a new dad with a full time job I'm lucky to get in an hour or two a night. Any attempt to play before 10 PM is thwarted by high-pitched screams of hunger, an oozing diaper, or major wife agro from ignoring the first two scenarios. By the time I make it back to WoW I'm usually a crumpled heap at the feet of some slobbering beast. Maybe if I wasn't mining the poopy ooze my son crafted all afternoon I could make it to 80 in two weeks. Realistically though, I don't think I'd have the tenacity or desire to power level to 80 even if I was a child-free bachelor.
Aside from available playtime, every player plays WoW differently and for different reasons. I'm the type that's easily distracted by ... well almost anything. And boy does Blizzard know how to serve up distractions. There are achievements to unlock, siege weapons to drive, dungeons to raid, nodes to mine and pets to collect. And, oh yeah, there's that whole new Death Knight class to try. The new environments are especially distracting. I'm the type that, when I see something cool off in the distance, I have to see what it is. It might be a sunken ship way off the coast, a mountain peak far in the distance, or those cool ski lift / gondolas in Howling Fjords. Whatever it is, I feel absolutely compelled to explore it. I have to attempt to stand on the peak of every mountain and explore the nooks and crannies of every village. It doesn't bother me that I'm not netting XP or loot or if I'm behind the level curve of my peers. I don't feel like I'm wasting time because I'm having fun.
Speaking of having fun, I'm glad Blizzard introduced the concept of achievements in WoW. It's nice to see rewards for playing around and enjoying the game; not just competing. Being rewarded for doing silly things like killing as many turkeys as fast as you can, getting a haircut or reading all the books in the game is a nice addition for those of us that aren't always in it to win it. And it's one of the many little things that will keep completionists busy while waiting for the next expansion pack.
Added to all this though, is the fact that I just don't want to rush to the conclusion of all this new content. It's great to see new things, fight new creatures (with new character models - finally), explore new lands, and enjoy new story arcs. Why would I want to rush through all this wonderful new content that Blizzard spent a great deal of time crafting and polishing? It's taken almost two years to get new content for WoW and I want to savor every bit of that on my way to 80. Even if I had the time, I know that if powered through the new content as fast as I could, I wouldn't enjoy playing as much.
Of course, part of the beauty of WoW is that it does allow for many types of playstyles. There aren't that many games out there that you can solo, run dungeons with small groups, raid epic instances with large groups, compete in world PvP and arenas, and have a varied and interesting crafting system. WoW may not do any one of these things perfectly, but it does them all very well. You can play the game just about any way you want. People who choose the straight and narrow path to the end-game will still get a lot of enjoyment out of Wrath. It's just that the enjoyment might end a bit faster.
For those players focused on "beating" the new content quickly it might be possible to see and do it all by Christmas if not earlier. I just hope the PvP, 25 man instance runs, the achievement system, or something else keeps them from grumbling about there being nothing to do. I think it's healthier to move on to a new game rather than complain. It's going to be a while before the next expansion is out (or until Star Wars: The Old Republic is out and lives up to the hype). So why rush? Why not relax and enjoy the ride? From my perspective, Wrath offers a boatload of new, fun content that will take me a long time to fully explore. Whether or not it's got enough new content to hold the attention of hardcore players – I guess only time will tell.
If it doesn't though, I hope Blizzard doesn't cave in to the whiners that complain about Blizzard's slow expansion schedule. I'm not a Blizzard fanboy. I don't think everything Blizzard touches is gold. But let's give them credit where it's due. They know how to craft a well polished MMOG better than anyone else in the business. I admire them for taking the time to produce high quality content rather than crank out tons of garbage. They've done a great job sticking to their guns on pushing content "when it's done" and I admire them for their dedication to quality. In my opinion, I think you have to treat MMOGs like a marathon rather than a sprint, or you'll end up burned out and bored. Slow down and smell the virtual roses.
MMOGology [mŏg-ol-uh-jee] – noun – The study of massively multiplayer online games via the slightly warped perspective of Marc Nottke.