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What Blizzard did right (and wrong) with the world event

Mike Schramm

I've been waiting to do some breakdown analysis of the Wrath world event until it actually ended, and since we're now swarming over Northrend and exploring Arthas' domain, I think the time has come to determine a verdict on whether or not Blizzard's world event delivered.

The short answer? I think it did, but not without a few bumps along the way. This was certainly the most ambitious world event Blizzard has attempted yet, both reusing some of their old techniques (the Scourge invasion), some newer tricks (a special boss with extra loot, which they learned from the Horseman last year), and even some tricks they picked up from players. But there were certain issues -- the timing was just plain bad, and the event really fizzled out rather than finished with a bang.

After the break, we run through what Blizzard did right and wrong with the world event, and what we can expect in the future.

What they did right

  • Immersion. We're going to be talking a lot about immersion in Wrath (in fact, stay tuned later today), but that's one thing this event did exactly right: no matter where you were or what you were doing in the World of Warcraft, the zombie plague came home to you whether you liked it or not. No one could ignore it -- even in the far reaches of Outland, Blizzard's world event showed itself. That's something you can't do with NPCs -- you can only make a growing, transforming, and ubiquitous world event by involving players, and the decision to do that was brilliant. In fact,
  • Mechanics. Taking the Corrupted Blood plague and turning it into something official was the most brilliant thing Blizzard's done with the game, maybe ever. Here was basically an exploit that players found that ended up being so popular and interesting that scientists studied it, and rather than sweep it under the carpet, Blizzard made it one of their own mechanics, and then tweaked it into something that captured players' imaginations. Zombies have a rich culture behind them, and so whenever a player transformed for the first time, they didn't need a tutorial or coaching about what to do or where to go. The goal was clear: eat brains, and that's what most of us did.
  • Diversity. The event started out with something as innocuous as crates in Booty Bay, and eventually steamrolled into a worldwide Scourge Invasion (complete with epic rewards) and a brand new boss in the game's most popular instance and cities under siege. Blizzard threw everything and the kitchen sink into this event, and there were no shortage of ways to get involved, whether you wanted to fight Scourge, become a zombie, or watch Thrall and Garrosh throw down.

Gallery: Wrath of the Lich King Zombie Event | 77 Photos

But as awesome as the event was, it obviously wasn't without problems.
What they did wrong
  • Timing. If this event really did unfold the way Blizzard planned it to, then they planned it wrong. The zombie attack ratcheted up at a dizzying pace in just a few days, and then disappeared forever. The Scourge Invasion dragged on, so much so that at the end of it, the Scourge really had taken over Azeroth -- no one needed any runes any more so the map was full of purple skulls that no one cared about. On one of our podcasts, BigBearButt said the most insightful complaint I heard about the Zombie event: it wasn't that casual players didn't like the zombie event, it was just that they didn't have a clear indication of when it might end, and the thought of being bothered out of questing for weeks or even a month until Wrath was what caused the most complaining. I don't disagree -- if Blizzard really did have a schedule to follow (and didn't cave to complaints, as they say) then that scheduling was terrible.
  • Lore. Could you tell someone the story of what happened during the world event? "Some crates appeared with strange symbols in Booty Bay, and then Putress was working on a plague cure and then zombies disappeared so I guess he found it, but then more zombies showed up, and then the Herald of the Lich King yelled something and we were in Northrend." Blizzard whiffed it completely on the lore of this event -- who put those crates in Booty Bay? Where was the long questline where we trace the shipments back to someone up North, an old friend of the Lordaeron royal family? What exactly did Putress come up with and how did he distribute it? The Thrall fight was awesome (and it's funny that he thought of Jaina), but where was the Alliance scene? And where the hell was Arthas -- there's a ton of poetry in the fact that he (or whoever) used plagued grain to turn players into zombies, but all we got were a few strange yells from his herald. He'll be in Wrath plenty (I just ran into him last night, actually), but if he really did bring all of this about, you'd think he'd personally show up and take credit for it.
  • Permanence. This is where Blizzard's event really fell down -- there were a few days of craziness in there, where it seemed the World of Warcraft really had changed, and then, like an old television show, everything went back to normal again. Right now in Warsong Hold, they're talking about the "razing" of Orgrimmar, but if Arthas thinks he really razed the city, then he needs to look up the definition of razed. Blizzard isn't afraid to delete content, and we've sure got enough to destroy (who really needs Darnassus?), so why didn't they pull the trigger? There are tons of towns in Northrend that have been destroyed by the Lich King's forces, but he couldn't find the power to actually destroy one of our own? The world event was epic, but not epic enough to change the world, and that's a shame.

Gallery: Orgrimmar is under attack! | 38 Photos

Gallery: Wrath World Event: Stormwind Harbor | 19 Photos

What they can do next

Despite the issues and the stop-and-start feel of the world event, I had a great time, and a lot of players did, too. Blizzard really is going above and beyond with MMO gameplay lately, both in the world event and in the expansion -- no other MMO company is playing with the kinds of mechanics and ideas that Blizzard is tossing around, and that's awesome.

But a future world event will pick up where this one left off, and go beyond. The mechanic of having players affect players is brilliant, and the idea of a temporary third faction worked very well, so that's definitely an idea that could be reused, in a different form than disease. And mixing that with established ideas, like the Scourge Invasion or the AQ War Effort, makes for an activity that can get everyone involved no matter who you are. But for a future world event, Blizzard needs to mix that in with the lore that they've already established -- use questing or even phasing, as they've done in Wrath already, to bring a bigger story into the picture effectively, and put some real meaning behind the chaos that naturally ensues from pitting player against player.

Finally, they need to change the world, permanently, and not in a way we would expect. World events are usually accompanied with new content, obviously, and we all knew that at the end of this event, we'd be headed off to Northrend. But if they'd mixed that in with a real razing of Orgrimmar, or part of Stormwind permanently taken over by the Scourge, or Darnassus falling to the Nerubians, we'd all get a much better souvenir than even the Arcanite Ripper: we'd walk by the fighting in Stormwind or the rubble in Orgrimmar and say, "I remember when those streets were full of innocent citizens, before the Scourge made their terrible mark on this land. Arthas has to pay."

This was the biggest world event Blizzard has ever tried, and it seems like a player favorite already. But they did stumble a bit -- hopefully, the next time our World comes crashing down, Blizzard will make the experience even more epic.

Relive all of WoW Insider's coverage of the world event, from the initial zombie attack up through the Arcanite Ripper and the various bosses of the Scourge Invasion, down to the final attacks on Orgrimmar and Stormwind. Before we went to Arthas, he and his minions came to us!

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