Ditching the Death Penalty

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Ditching the Death Penalty
Ditching the Death Penalty
About ten days ago, Blizzard Community Manager Taepsilum posted in the EU forums on a thread about removing the death penalty. While this may sound like a political hot potato that WoW Insider would do best to avoid, Taepsilum was actually responding to a post calling for the removal of resurrection sickness from the game. The original poster asserted that it was outdated, no longer necessary, and flatly inconvenient. That it detracted from the game's experience. Taepsilum's post was as follows.

The death of a character should be something important, the death penalty is there to make sure players don't disregard it, in my opinion it's actually already too easy and too fast to resurrect.
It's because of the penalty and the lost time when doing a corpse run, that players will be more cautious about their character.
If you decide to resurrect at the spirit healer, it's because either your character died in a very weird place (and you should be more careful), or you just don't want to corpse run.

I think we should all be glad that there's no experience loss as death penalty, that would probably be a bit too harsh, but I do think we need something to keep death from being meaningless.

We're always open to good and new ideas of what that might be; as long as it's not "removal of the death penalty", feel free to chip in ;)

For clarity, as Taepsilum went on to add, this wasn't a discussion about ghost flying in Pandaria, but about the penalty characters suffer for death overall in WoW.

In "Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader (2008)", Lisbeth Klastrup discusses the death experience in WoW, and how it serves to reinforce the appeal of WoW's "game world." She asserts that the death experience is "a way to teach players to handle the game aspect of the world in a more successful way... to improve their play." While this may seem like an obvious point, imagine if there was no disadvantage from death whatsoever? If your green bar ran out, then it just refilled itself again, and nothing else happened.

Firstly, that would be pretty strange. It would be incongruous in the WoW universe, where death has always existed. Klastrup argues that death needs to exist, to strengthen the "worldness" and immersion of WoW. Is this reasonable? Where would we be without it? Lore-wise, while eternal life has existed in the case of the Aspects in the past, and no doubt in other cases, mortality is important as a part of story-telling and mythology, which, in turn, is important in the creation of a history and an immersive world. The Aspects' immortality was interesting as an exception, and would be less so had it been the norm. Additionally, killing things is less interesting if they can't die!

And secondly, without death and its associated penalties, when would you learn how to play? Think back to when you had just started, and you first went to the Jasperlode mine, and failed to "take candle" from some Kobolds. OK, so that might have been very specific to my experience, but I'm sure you had a similar story. You died, you worked out what you were doing wrong, you learned. Remove player death from the equation, and learning becomes harder to enforce.

Furthermore, quoting, as Klastrup does, from Blizzard's game guide, "if players do not feel like they are overcoming obstacles, then the game does not feel rewarding enough." Again, imagine your green bar just ran out, then was instantly refilled. Imagine you were essentially invincible. How much fun would raiding be, if there was no fear of failure, if you knew you would outlive the boss, simply because you can't die? Not very much, I'd say, but perhaps you disagree?

Convenience at a Cost

But we've diverged a little from the key element of the original thread, specifically, the cost and inconvenience of 10 minutes of resurrection sickness plus 25% durability removed, so a hefty repair bill for a level 90 in epics. The other option, of course, is to return to your corpse and resurrect yourself there, but that takes time, and is, on occasion, impossible, in the old world as well as in Pandaria. Is the penalty too harsh? Or is it a reasonable cost for the convenience of not having to return to your corpse?

I have to admit, it is very frustrating on occasions when it is literally impossible to retrieve your corpse thanks to its position. Although it could be argued that you simply have to be careful where you die, it seems unfair that the two options aren't always available to players. It might be a better approach to have a third option to choose when a player's corpse is unreachable, but that is, of course, subject to abuse.

But let's consider the impact of the removal of resurrection sickness and the durability hit for a moment. Given the above rumination on the necessity of death, what would the impact of such a change be? If ressing at the spirit healer came without any cost, would death be onerous enough? Items do, of course, still suffer some durability loss whenever a player is killed, but very little. If a player is doing something specific in a specific area when they die, they still have to return to their previous location, whether as a ghost or a living character, but if there were no penalty and they wanted to go to somewhere further away, death could be a means of transport. And with the removal of corpse running, that seems like something the developers want to avoid. Death, it seems to me, should be a penalty, not something to be used to gain an advantage.

How does WoW compare in this to other games? What's your opinion on the ideas above? Would you prefer a Guild Wars 2-style system which makes death marginally less onerous? Or maybe a FPS-style system where you die, and go back to the spawn point with a small cost? Personally, I like WoW's system. I find myself frustrated by games that don't allow you to return to your corpse, but maybe that's because WoW has been my main MMO for so many years that I've become accustomed to its ways. What do you think?

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.

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