And before I leave until 10.0., I have yet another post to summarize my concerns about current WoW and wishes for its probable future.
Needless to say, lore is the biggest butt monkey in the cage, and rightfully so. We omit Shadowlands rant, for all I care Tyrande performing a French kiss on Sylvanas would not already bother me – it’s too late for that. Yet what’s to come?
World of Warcraft has a number of very interesting themes to explore – Dragon Isles (whatever the fuck that is), Azshara is somewhere there, a protruding Sargeras’ blade in Silithus, more devastated zones that need healing (Teldrassil & Undercity case included), a peace between Alliance/Horde, a case of Light/Shadow in terms of already very disturbing Turalyon/Alleria antics and a probable Evil Light invasion from alternate Draenor via the now-“Light Portal”, kobolds, troggs and shit running rampant in the wake of Fourth War and many years absense of Alliance/Horde leaders, Scourge running rampant without Helm of Domination, Azeroth finally hatched – and what not, and that’s just our home planet, enough for several expansions.
If done well, this could all play out and deliver us epic adventures, which we deeply care about. Keypoint: done well. And this is how.
First of all, a convincing villain and its motives. We’d never expect the FFXIV depth (and that game also has its favorite tropes too, frankly), but we must nevertheless relate. Craving for ultimate power is comprehensible, corruption by evil forces (dreadlords or whatever) is a moldy case in WoW, but it works. Fear, anger, vendetta, scraping out territory and resources for your people, your own vision of how the world should operate – anything would suffice. In case of Evil Light, we already even have Alleria/Turalyon/Yrel standing ready to sway into fanatical crusade, taking their religion into extreme, there’s nothing to invent.
All these motives are very viable and believable – all we need is to see them articulated in the beginning, through pre-patch, trailers and cinematics. All they need to do is NOT to be vague – like even now in 9.2. we’re not aware what Jailer actually wants, we know WHAT and HOW, but never WHY. What was driving the plot of two expansions? I don’t know, and no one does.
Second – we also need to understand WHY DO WE FIGHT. Such a brilliant phrase from Pandaria, there’s nothing better. We need to understand what the villain is planning – and so we understand what are the stakes and why are we fighting, what happens if we don’t? Else, we could define our own agenda: for example, ruining a Sargeras sword would release crazy elementals, but it needs to be done to heal the planet, and so we do what is necessary and are ready to fight them, to take that risk and cope with consequences.
And epicness is born exactly here: when something spectacular happens in a cinematic, we understand how awful it is, or how cathartic is the resolution when evil disperses. That, not just the picture, makes us awe.
Third – characters, characters, characters. Again, WoW is not Final Fantasy and neither it should be, so you can’t wrap up the narrative around characters’ personal stories and arcs, major and minor alike. Yet all characters we meet on our way must have some strong motives, a strong logic of how events influence them and how their attitude changes, why and how they act in a way they do. Currently, all of them are merely talking dummies with unexplainable and thus unbelievable pivots here and there.
Again, it’s hard to hold hope after Shadowlands, but even in BfA Blizzard managed the smaller picture. Old and new, major and minor characters were done so well, and that’s what stops me from naming the expansion bad – they and the actual events kept me engaged and motivated, even if the overall major narrative lacked focus – why do we fight – as Sylvanas, the main war trigger, was absent from the screen.
This is crystal clear now – especially in Zereth Mortis which I quit after two days, two sessions – that WoW is remarkably outdated in its approach to everyday gameplay. The bulk of each and every expansion and patch, as new lore takes 2-3 hours tops on release day, 8-10 upon x.0 expansion release, are repetitive activities in the open world: dailies, world quests, chests, rares and what not. There are PvP, raids and dungeons, of course, but to participate in them and progress through content, to acquire new goods you’re still bound to everyday duties – multiplied by the number of alts.
And this is where player satisfaction comes into clash with the almighty MAU. The overall developers’ concern is to make players spend as much time in the game as possible – ironically, they’re so wrong in their methods and achieve exactly the opposite result.
For example: your world quest requires 13 mob kills (or clicking/collecting 10+ items). Technically, a player spends twice as much time than if he had to deal with 4-6 enemies or collecting 3-6 nodes before moving on to the next task. So he spends twice more time playing WoW, right? Wrong.
It’s a tactical victory which nevertheless results in a strategical defeat. If your daily task requires this grind (more so, if it’s spiced with dense/hard mobs and unnecessary, dangerous, exhausting combat), you become quite exhausted, accumulate an overall fatigue, and are reluctant to login next time as in “not this again”, to say nothing about alts which are required to do the very same stuff. Daily duties repeating themselves after a short while doesn’t help at all – the overall range of quests and tasks is limited.
Now let’s see the opposite example: collect 3-5 nodes, kill 4-6 enemies during the same tasks. Yes, you spend 5 minutes on quest instead of 10, and you hop on the next task twice as fast, but you feel… happy about it. In half an hour, you achieve a lot and got a significant reward, you did all your chores, you’re free for the day and… you don’t feel exhausted. You’re actually happy and want more! So you can hop on an alt, or chase other activities at your leisure – or, in a “worst” case scenario, be done with a session for today. But! you’re happy to return tomorrow, because you actually had fun, you felt progress, and you want to repeat the experience.
That’s my biggest concern about 95% of my WoW gameplay. It is an MMO, true, so goals must not be accomplished in a day, and the model of kill-me-some, bring-me-some would always remain as its core questing. Yet keeping this model intact, you could easily make the whole process a lot less grindy and so a lot more fun – even if it means a tactical MAU loss, at the same time it’s more subscription time and a happier playerbase.
I would not talk about borrowed power, gating, and stuff like that, it’s been chewed over and over a lot of times, by many people. But the things I said here is exactly what made me quit WoW for the time being, and I hope they get resolution in future expansions and patches.