Shortly after I had quit World of Warcraft, many of my friends had done so as well. Later Blizzard had released a patch adding content that allowed you to actually combat the Lich King in a raid, however I quit before then and still have yet to complete it (one nagging regret I still have). They also released an entire expansion during the course of my absence from World of Warcraft. This was the “Cataclysm” expansion pack, which featured a resurfacing of large portions of the lands of Azeroth by the hands of Death Wing. Blizzard use this storyline to enable introducing the ability to fly anywhere in Azeroth for its players. This expansion pack also introduced two new playable races, Worgens and Goblins.
About 2 years later, they also released another expansion pack. This one was named “Mists of Pandaria” and featured a new race, Pandarians, modeled after pandas with a heavy Asian cultural influence. At first, I thought it was something like an April fool’s joke. Years ago they had announced a new unit for their Warcraft III: Reigns of Chaos title, and it was modeled after a panda. Has Blizzard had exhibited a sense of humor, I thought this was perhaps a joke and never paid close attention. Like many, after accepting it was in fact true, I found the thought absurd. It seemed Blizzard was grabbing at straws and blatantly stealing from the “Kung Fu Panda” movies. There was interesting concept introduced alongside the Pandarian race however. Unlike all of the other races in World of Warcraft, the Pandarians were not attached to the Alliance or the Horde. After completing the introduction quests for the Pandarian starter area, and being introduced to both the Alliance and the Horde (who have arrived on their mobile continent via shipwreck and immediately resumed their war), the player must choose which side to align with. Therefore, both races feature Pandarians. These facet did peak my curiosity. One of my greatest complaints with World of Warcraft had been the fact that it forced you to be on one side or the other all dependent on the race you chose, and you could not even communicate with the other faction (they speak a different race). Despite the Warcraft 1, 2, and 3 titles storylines showing characters actively making choices who to help and when based on enemies, and even being a part of some of the story lines in World of Warcraft, the game restricted players form making the choice. Also, even though the idea was that the races can’t talk to each other because of “languages”, it made little sense that players could not invest in learning the languages of the other faction (since they already speak multiple languages, why not another?). This expansion finally afforded players an actual choice in how they played the game. Finally!
Here is the trailer for the Pandarian expansion that gets the point across rather well (I especially like the part where the two enemies unite due to both being unfamiliar with the unknown third party). It is important to note that this is CG, and not a representation of the games graphical interface or engine.
Given this feature, and my yearning to attempt some good old raid fun (World of Warcraft had still featured the best dungeons and raids out of all the MMO’s I had tried since leaving World of Warcraft, though I did still dislike the “instanced” aspect of them versus Lineage 2’s “open world” dungeons). I reunited with my former Guild leader and we began rebuilding our guild. I quickly powered through the Cataclysm content (which I found absolutely dreadful, the worst content/leveling experience I have ever had in an MMO, though this is highly just because of the route I took (the underwater realm)). To give you an idea of how World of Warcraft manages releasing new content and making it so players can access it, it took me a mere three days to get through all of that expansions content. The game is designed so players are able to get to the newest content as quickly and easily as possible. This point is further illustrated by starting the new expansion content, where the intro quest rewards end up replacing the rare gear that you just obtained from dungeons of the previous expansion (another aspect I greatly dislike about WoW).
The content and story for the Mists of Pandaria content was actually very well done. I found it just as captivating and interesting as the Wrath of the Lich King content, and despite it still resembling “Kung Fu Panda”, I found it fresh and interesting. It was also building the tension between the Alliance and Horde and good versus evil themes (while an overarching theme for the entire series, it is often down played as there is usually always a common powerful foe stepping in). In fact, it was an absolutely wonderful experience all together, that is, until we hit the raiding content, the main reason we had decided to return to World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft had long since introduced “dungeon finder”. This is a feature that allows a player to open a menu and select a dungeon they wish to play, and pick the role they wish to play (healer, tank, damage dealer). After confirming, the system then finds four other players that also wish to play that dungeon and then puts them all together (ensuring there is 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 dps). It then teleports all players to the dungeon, and gives them extra rewards if they complete it together, and then teleports players back to where the y came from. This feature became very popular and has since been adapted to just about every MMO that has been released since. I say this now, this is the absolute WORST addition to MMOs in the history of MMOs. Prior to this, players had to organize parties on their own, communicate, interact, and then journey to the dungeon. Now, players just had to check a mark in a box and all the leg work was done for them. You didn’t even have to communicate with those people it put you in a group with. Simply do your duty and nothing more was expected of you. And you are REWARDED for this behavior. This is also the most efficient way to level up, which also makes it so players can avoid 90% of the content in the game and merely stick do dungeons to level up. Imagine that, going through an entire MMO, just to be placed in groups with strangers and never talking to them, all on your journey to the max level. But then it must surely become fun as you need to be in guilds and attempt raids together, right? Wrong.
World of Warcraft took it a step further and introduced “raid finder”. Now all the horrors that dungeon finder had given us could be used to “complete” the entire game! Sure, the loot you received from these “Raid finder” dungeons were 1 step down, but only that, 1 mere step down. The raids were also dumbed down to account for 10 or 25 strangers being thrown together at random in order to compensate for the potential lack of familiarity and communication with each other. There were limits on entering these raids (and these limits applied to dungeons as well) requiring you to have a certain item level in order to participate. The game rates you gear and tells you if you are wearing good enough to compete in these areas, so now you had the game telling you were you could and couldn’t play, and requiring you to focus exclusively on your gear, and not your performance. This drives players to focus only on upgrading their gear, and caring little for other players, as it only impedes one’s own progress. This is a reoccurring theme I have seen in almost all MMOs that use this system (which… is all of them just about; Final Fantasy XIV, TERA, and Guild Wars 2, while having this system, also had players still actively forming parties the old way, though I can’t exactly remember why it was relevant, I will attempt to find this out; In Star Wars: The Old Republic, it was the worst of all and really destroyed gameplay).
With all of the content and high end gear being obtainable in this manner, player guilds were much less popular/needed. Guilds were the best way to be able to unite with other players and have sufficient numbers to enter these raids, however raid finder made it so you never had to know a sole in order to participate in this content. Therefore, my guild leader and I had very difficult time recruiting enough players to reach the 25-man raids, and even in our 10-man raids, players were often getting discouraged quicker and would rather do the raid finders which were easier and provided nearly just as good gear. Our game play revolved around doing daily quests to receive tokens that allowed you to roll for gear in these raid finder raid’s, which wouldn’t always grant items, doing the raids themselves, and always focusing on our gear. As raid-finder was more efficient then guild activity, guild chat seemed to revolve around “so did ya find better gear yet” instead of the guild worrying about helping each other progress as a unit. In essence, the game was robbed of all that made it a virtual world where player interactions between each other actually mattered. Another big factor played into it. Raids were more and more streamlined and simplified, not only in the difficulty and ability required to do it, but the tricks and thought necessary to complete the raids. Even our beloved Naxx has become dumbed down and more easier to conquer as mechanics were simplified (the DDR dance now require you stand in a single spot, rather than have to be constantly moving/running). Along with that, World of Warcraft was well known for players being able to use add-ons and modifications that help keep track of game play (I mentioned the damage dealt meter before). Raids became more about “playing the interface”, rather than the game. Players simply stared at screens and icons, more focused about the right millisecond to press a button rather than enjoy the amazing spells and graphics happening on screen. These “features” completely destroyed immersion, yet were required to be competitive with other players (this was a problem mainly only for me, many find them an asset). Needless to say, we quit, disappointed.
Why were these systems added then? Accessibility. These systems made it so all players could enjoy the game in its entirety without any limits. Players who found themselves pressed for time or with other obligations could now hop in for limited time periods, and still be able to level up, experience the dungeons/raids, and make their way through the game. Blizzards focus has always tended to rely more on focusing on accessibility over all else, and it has been identified as a trend that the game has become easier and easier. Sadly, as World of Warcraft is the most popular MMORPG that has existed, this has proven itself as the most demanded model, and most profitable, which has led to most other developers copying it. This has led to a sour taste in core gamers player’s mouths for years. Many of us have been jumping from MMO to MMO, looking for something… something missing from the old days… something that made these virtual worlds more than just games.
World of Warcraft has another expansion releasing titled Warlords of Draenai, and it features such things as a form of player housing (finally… way to be super late to the party WoW), an overhaul of the graphics system, as well as introduction of “mythic” difficulty level 20-man raids. This is being seen as an attempt of World of Warcraft to be more like its “vanilla” (original, pre-expansion state), when the game was more like traditional MMOs, however with every expansion since Burning Crusade I have heard players speak such prayers, and there really has been no deliverance unto these prayers. It has just been used as something to pull us along, expansion to expansion. Personally, I’m overjoyed that WoW’s subscription numbers are dropping, and I hope they continue to plummet. When this expansion launches, I am sure we will give it another go, but it really has become a matter of doing it more for the sake of saying “Yes I tried it” rather than “I am really excited and enjoy it!”.