Well, I’ve made it again and I am once more at the level cap in World of Warcraft. It took me longer this time than probably any one of their expansions to date, but I’m glad I made it. It may not have happened, in all honesty — I’d already tried and given up once before — but a good friend returned and I took the chance at trying again. The journey was filled with ups and downs and now that I’m here, I think it’s time for a bit of reflection.
Level progression was loose and easy but I can’t help but feel let down. Mists of Pandaria is an exercise in rigidity. Questing follows the same model we saw in Cataclysm but to a heightened state. Quest hubs will unilaterally usher you along the leveling super highway with every handful of quests buzzing you past another exit. Eventually hit 90 and decide if it’s time to get off. There are pitstops for lore and other distractions but each is extremely short-lived with little trade-off for the time spent. It works, and a lot of the quests are fun and well designed, but the general sense is one of being ushered through: You don’t want to wait too longer because something else (not better) is just around the bend.
I don’t think I like that. I don’t think I like the direction WoW has gone. Blizzard has always supported directed gameplay but this is beyond that. It is defined gameplay. Even exploration doo-dads, these lore items and junk pick-ups that are instantly traded in for cash, are only the bare minimum required to say Blizzard supports exploring. They don’t. Play as prescribed and call me in the morning.
I’ve mentioned in the past how impressed I was at the level design in Jade Forest. The single most disappointing thing of this expansion is that every other zone fails to meet that bar. Where are the instanced story sequences? Where is the voice narration? Where are the new quest types? I mean, the sniper bit in Jade Forest wasn’t tried-and-true MMO fare but it was at least new. Everything that came after was cut-and-paste from 2009 — plus vehicles. I would be willing to bet, even, that the reason players begin in Jade Forest is because some developer probably noticed its content was the most unique thing on offer in MoP. Playing through Townlong Steepes and seeing the crystal-snake from Stonecore pop out of the ground (because, why not?) really captured the sense of re-hash that pervades the experience.
But for all that, I have never claimed WoW was a bad or unworthy game. There were some damn fun parts in leveling up. Pretty much anything that allowed you to kill masses of enemies at once sparkled. Smashing evil monkies with a giant yeti was a great time. As was the martial arts training sequence. All that needed to be a proper montage was Eye of the Tiger. Even playing standard Kill/Collect quests was a good time because what WoW does well, it runs with. Environments are over-saturated and beautiful. Mastering your class is easy to try and hard to perfect. The added movement for even the most basic battles also adds an element of reactivity previously only found in group content.
Normal mode dungeons are fun but lacking. By level 87 I had played through every one of them. By 88 I was avoiding them because, well, why bother? Apart from seeing the content, there wasn’t much motivation to actually get in until 89 when you begin preparing for heroics.
Another thing that bears mentioning is that the number systems are simply out of control. At level 10 you’re getting +5 stat armor. By 89 you’re getting +450 stat armor, multiple times over. I dinged 90 with almost 400k health. Levels require tens of millions of experience points and reading quests slows things down to the point where actually getting them is a drag. At that point, questing isn’t about “experience” or story or world. It’s about filling in a percent of a bar. 2% here, 1% there, gogogo to ding grats thx.
Numbers are so out of control they are choking out their very meaning. Tell me, what’s the difference between 350k and 400k HP? A raid-geared TBC tank. Or one hit. You choose.
Now that I’m 90, I will get back into the routine of collecting gear for heroics and LFR. I always enjoyed that aspect of the game. Tangible progression, cool outfits. I do wonder if I will make it, though, hating dailies as I do.
And with that, I would like to make a prediction. Without ever having completed daily #1 in MoP, and without regard to how fun any of them may actually be, I feel confident in saying that building the endgame on the back of daily quests will be viewed as the single biggest failing of this expansion.
I say this for two reasons. First, Blizzard have made completing them a requirement with the introduction of lucky coins (which give extra loot rolls). Pairing this with wider accessibility of raiding LFR has provided, people feel herded towards them. Second, and more importantly, the current implementation of dailies takes the raid problem and pushes it into the rest of the world. Don’t like repeating the same content ad nauseum? Well, instead of doing that once a week with a chance at progression, now you get to do it every day with the chance at none. Tell me players won’t get tired of that and I’ll tell you about this floating island I have.
Sorry for the snark. Dailies are fine as a limited option. They are not an endgame and nor should they be anything more than a temporary gateway. Even with lots of options, over an expansion cycle they will all get seen, all get played out, and the less fun ones will be pushed to the side while the better ones become objects of scorn. Players need movement. They need progress. It doesn’t matter how good your quest is, after completing it 30 times, it becomes a chore before going outside to play.
Overall, I’m happy I made it to 90 and I won’t be surprised if the game opens up a bit. Despite my conclusions above, I expect to actually enjoy some of the dailies because I won’t be doing them to death. My plan right now is to begin tanking with my Death Knight (the game does a good job of getting you gear ready) and get the extra few points I need to begin heroics. Then it’s raiding through the LFR to see the content through.
Now that I’ve pushed through and am 90, I need to get back to RIFT and see more of Storm Legion. Plus, TSW, a game I bought, am extremely intrigued by, but keeps getting pushed to the side because I should probably get these sub games in before my time expires. How about that?