This month's Choose My Adventure was two parts adventure and one part nostalgia. And as it turns out, sometimes the past really does belong in the past.
Thoughts on Warlords of Draenor
The final post in each month's Choose My Adventure is normally reserved for closing thoughts on my experiences with a game. In this particular CMA, I'm limiting my commentary to Warlords of Draenor and the new instant level 90 level boost process. I didn't level through Cataclysm's revamped starter content or take any trips into Pandaria. Instead, this CMA centered entirely on the new stuff Blizzard brought to the table with WoD's release.
Warlords of Draenor is good. It's probably the best expansion since Wrath of the Lich King, shaking up enough systems and offering enough new content to keep World of Warcraft feeling interesting. I've lamented how lore-focused it can be at times, but that's just a personal quibble. Overall, I'm willing to bet that the majority of WoW's playerbase has been satisfied with the new content and excited to cruise through it along the path to 100. As for whether those players will stick around through another 14-month dry spell... who knows?
I think the core takeaway here is that World of Warcraft is still basically World of Warcraft. If you liked it the day before Warlords of Draenor launched, you probably still like it. If you didn't, I don't know that anything in this expansion will change your mind. Garrisons might be enough to snag some lapsed players, and the promise of new raid content is always a powerful motivator, but beyond that WoD just gives you more to do of the things you've already been doing. Every player is going to have to make his or her own decision.
For those folks who still like WoW, its mechanics, its world, and its features, Warlords of Draenor is right on target.
The instant 90
One of the major focuses of this CMA was exploring how the instant level 90 process works and what sort of character it creates. Do you end up totally incompetent? Does Blizzard hold your hand while you learn your spells and rotations? These were questions I really hoped to answer by skipping the starter content and jumping directly to Mists of Pandaria's level cap. As I crashed across WoD's battlefields and completed its quests on my reader-created shadow Priest, I experienced moments of both joy and frustration.
No attempt is made to educate you on how to properly use your spells. Veterans will cry foul at this complaint, telling me to go read Icy Veins or to read my spell descriptions or some other nonsense that boils down to "L2P." But folks seem to forget that one of the key selling points of the instant 90 process at its announcement was the way in which it would take inexperienced players and give them a basic grasp of their class. The actual implementation leaves a lot to be desired and right now benefits only those players who have a deep understanding of World of Warcraft's systems and a basic knowledge of the class they're creating.
World of Warcraft has always followed the "download a mod" and "check a website that isn't ours" systems of information delivery. There's no excuse for continuing this way in the MMO world of 2014/2015. A new player excited to join his or her friends in WoD content is going to be utterly and brutally lost without the aid of third-party sites and add-ons. To be honest, it feels as though a lot of the content is balanced around that reality. The Bloodmaul Slag Mines is essentially "Baby's First Dungeon" despite being an instance tuned for 90+ players. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the auto-pilot nature of the starting zone is a purposeful decision to ease the transition for new instant 90s.
I like the instant 90 process as a concept. I think it makes perfect sense to give players a way to jump immediately into the stuff their friends are doing. But level syncing, mentoring, and easy class-switching are better solutions to the same problem and are readily available in other games. For an expensive paid service to take the crown as the new way to equalize content, it needs to be far more polished and intelligent than what Blizzard has delivered. I hope to see this system get some attention in future updates.
Like I said before, Warlords of Draenor is good. It offers some of the best questing World of Warcaft has seen in years, compelling new systems with which to tinker, and a whole new way to experience the game (by skipping the first 90 levels). There's a lot to love here, and any criticisms of the core experience are easily countered with, "Yeah, duh, it's World of Warcraft." The only real question is whether World of Warcraft is still a thing you want to pay money each month to play.
For me, playing World of Warcraft feels a lot like a high school reunion. It's familiar and fun, but the life I've lived in games since discovering it changes how I see things. The cool kids don't really seem all that cool anymore. Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, and SWTOR are doing things that WoW isn't and will likely continue to not do. Hanging out under the bleachers doing kill quests was cool in 2004; in 2014 I want to instantly switch classes and participate in huge dynamic events and have my quests dictated by silky-voiced professionals. WoD isn't enough to catch WoW up to my new expectations for what's possible in MMOs.
Is that something Blizzard can solve without releasing an entirely new game? I honestly don't know.
Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.