Saturday, February 6, 2010

World of Warcraft:- An autopsy.

My main is still deleted, but a cousin of mine arrived today, and is currently staying with me for ten days, before he goes overseas, possibly for several years. He is someone who I have traditionally played Blizzard's games with, and so I have relented to reinstall the game, and temporarily resubscribe in order to play with him.

It is still, however, highly questionable as to whether I will remain after he leaves. This post, and a deluge of other similar ones, which are showing up on the forums on a daily basis at this point, more or less echo my current feelings about the state of the game. There was one other fairly insightful one the other night, which I might have to try and track down; it goes into more depth.

Although I know that none of these will happen, much less even be listened to by Blizzard, for the sake of argument I will outline the changes which would need to occur, to genuinely reignite my enthusiasm as a player of World of Warcraft.

Brigwyn said in the comments of my last post, that he missed having people around who were willing to speak the truth about WoW. Brig, this post is for you, because a lot of truth (at least from my perspective) that I've been sitting on for more than 12 months now, is about to get spoken.

1. Class balance would need to be reverted to the state of around patch 2.1, and ideally, most of the restrictions that were added to the addon/macro system in 2.0 would be removed. Hell, an easier way of doing this would probably be to simply revoke/invalidate WoTLK entirely. I truthfully don't know anyone who doesn't think that this expansion has been largely a mess. The only part of it that has really been good from my perspective, was the questing. The 5 mans were bad, and I've hardly been able to raid at all, thanks to GearScore.

Let BM be our main damage tree again. I only had a problem with that because of how some BM hunters treated people socially, but in game, there was literally nothing better than having a BM Hunter in the same 5 man group with me as Survival. I trapped, they did damage; which freed both of us to do only that which we were specialised for, and allowed the other person to take care of the other half of our class.

If the Steady Shot nerf was repealed, it would be much easier to make Marksmanship sufficiently competitive to make Rilgon happy, as well.

2. The comic would need to be cancelled. It has trashed the game's lore. I would want it out of print. I would want Thrall reaffirmed as Warchief of the Horde, with Garrosh maybe as his second, but with him behaving. I would want Jaina as leader of the Alliance, with Varian Wrynn retconned out entirely. Have him fall through a crack in the universe somewhere; I don't care. He is a mistake, and he should not exist.

3. The Arena would need to be removed from the game entirely. This probably wouldn't stop the flood of FPS/console gamers, but it would probably help somewhat.

4. Character name change and faction/sex/race change options would need to be removed. These have done possibly irreperable social damage to the game. These days, reputation among players no longer means anything, so it is possible to behave like a profane, sociopathic, entirely anonymous FPS gamer, and then if necessary change your character's name the next day, with zero personal consequences.

5. Heirlooms would need to be removed. These have destroyed the levelling game entirely. As an alt Rogue in Razorfen Krawl a few days ago, I was generating 60 DPS without heirlooms, and a Hunter was generating 80 with them. That's almost another 25% overall damage, and the original 5 mans were not designed for those numbers.

6. The Death Knight would need to become a single target, rather than AoE class. Over-reliance on AoE has killed any requirement for tactical co-ordination within instances.

7. The Paladin's class role would be repealed back to that of the defensive hybrid, per the original design, and its' abilities (in terms of the bubble, etc) would likewise be returned to their previous state. Some of the improvements that have allowed Protection to be made viable as a tanking spec would be kept, albeit with a fairly substantial nerf to damage, and corresponding buff to threat generation if need be. The Retribution tree would be heavily nerfed, and it would be stipulated as a DPS tree for levelling/soloing only.

8. The horrific scenario with stat inflation and the destruction of the colour coding system would need to be repaired/reversed. Gear/stat scaling would need to be made much more conservative, and given sane, conservative rates, made on the basis of analysing the numbers of the original (pre-expansion) game, and extrapolating on that basis.

There would also, correspondingly, need to be a massive reduction in the number of available, epic quality items. The colour coding system only meant something when it was applied judiciously and with genuine care. 85-90% of the items available even to level cap players should be blue; the epic item class should be reserved for genuinely top end raid gear ONLY. The vast majority of the current epics should be made blue.

This change wouldn't just benefit raiders; it would make everyone happier, because it would re-introduce the feeling that everyone's gear was actually worth something.

As a corrolary of this, gear needs to stop being seen, both by players, and by developers, as an end in itself. Gear is not an end reward in itself. All it is for, is to allow you to get past the next level of content. If there is no next level of content, gear is worthless.

The purpose of gear is not to be able to idly stand around capital cities on your mount, seeking to have people stare at you in awe, as a source of narcissistic supply. Anyone who views this game in this manner, needs to seek urgent professional psychiatric help.

9. Blizzard need to stop mindlessly, shamelessly pandering to the lowest common denominator, in the name of myopic corporate greed. In response to a thread made in the DPS forum by someone quitting not long ago, Ghostcrawler implicitly made his priorities clear, by talking about population numbers and how well WoTLK was still selling.

Caring purely about short term player population growth above all else, while entirely neglecting the quality of individual player experience, class balance, and virtually every other element of the game, is not a good recipe for the game's long term wellbeing. World of Warcraft is being hideously mismanaged, in all of the ways listed above.

Ghostcrawler and the developer team are also now fairly clearly allowing their direction to be dictated by the chronically mentally ill 5% of the playerbase, that inhabit the forums. The single main reason why this is so disastrous, is because the forum's most vocal inhabitants (who are also among the smallest minorities in the playerbase) are dedicated Arena players.

In particular, the train wreck that is the philosophy of, "bring the player, not the class," must be abandoned if this game is to survive. Needing to bring individual classes, is the very defining essence of a Role Playing game. Virtually all of the individuality between classes has been stripped, and whenever he is asked about this, Ghostcrawler invariably responds that this is by conscious design. As has been commented on by other players, the fact that Blizzard wanted to remove the class forums, and replace them with three class role forums, only underscores the point.

There are only really the three roles now; tank, healer, DPS. There is no really appreciable difference between the classes in these three roles. Crowd control is dead. If you have either a Paladin or Death Knight in a group, any form of tactical co-ordination or execution order are redundant, as well.

This isn't a true roleplaying game; most implementations of Team Fortress have greater differentiation between class roles. WoW used to have an extreme level of diversity and asymmetry between classes. The level is rapidly declining, and again, whenever Ghostcrawler is notified of this, his response is to almost sound proud of it.

The game has degenerated into a mindless grind for gear. Other than raid hard modes, there is no challenge whatsoever, and any difficulty left from the pre-TBC game is ruthlessly nerfed by the developers as soon as it is found. It really is not a sarcastic exaggeration to compare WoW with Hello Kitty Island Adventure any more.

Socially, the game has collapsed. The addition of the battlegroup LFD tool, and all of the paid transfer and race/sex/name changes etc mean, as described above, that you are now entirely anonymous and invisible. There is no need for anyone to moderate their behaviour for the sake of social reputation at all, and so as a result, people's treatment of each other, outside pre-existing guilds, is utterly abominable.

Guild formation has been made much more difficult, because of the fact that it is possible to level characters entirely within the random LFD tool now, without needing to ever set foot in the non-instanced environment, after level 15. There thus isn't a scenario where you initially meet people any more while questing. Even if you make friends with people during LFD sessions, they're on a different server, so you'll never see them again after the current instance ends.

My problems with this game, as you can hopefully see from the above, are not minor, and are not due to any one single, isolated element. World of Warcraft is, at this point, showing very real signs of a large scale systemic collapse. The new expansion being named Cataclysm is deeply appropriate; but in the end, the cataclysm is going much deeper than simply the non-instanced terrain of Azeroth, and it isn't being caused by Deathwing.

Ultimately, it's being caused by Activision themselves. If I posted this in the DPS forum, I would expect Ghostcrawler's sarcastic response to be, "I assume you think you could perform my job better."

At the moment, my reply, quite seriously, would be, "You're damn right I do."

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