Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Time-Consuming Is Not The Same As Difficult

There is an entire genre of blogpost these days grousing about how Blizzard is dumbing down and trivializing World of Warcraft, removing all difficulty from the game to cater to those stupid casuals who won't get off of the poster's digital lawn, etc. Well, Cheerydeth hit level 38 last night working on the old classic quest Mudrock Soup and Bugs, a basic kill 15 or so turtles quest located just outside Theramore. I first did this quest on my Pally sometime circa January 2005, again on my mage back in August 2005, and yet again on my hunter sometime in early 2006, so I'm relatively familiar with the then and now comparison.

2005 (The Good Old Days)

A level 38 character would not have a ground mount at all. They also may or may not have all of their spell upgrades currently trained, as 100G was a lot of money back in those days, and I definitely remember passing on upgrades for spells I wasn't using as I tried to save up. Once you got the mount at level 40, it would kick you off and force you to spend 3 seconds (and a non-trivial chunk of mana for Pallies and Warlocks) remounting if you set hoof in shallow water.

The best way to reach Theramore was to fly from Ironforge (the likely home of your 1-hour cooldown hearthstone) to Menethil Harbor and await the boat. If you were coming from Booty Bay anyway, you could take the boat to Ratchet and physically run south on foot - there was no neutral flight path in Ratchet at the time, and I'd guesstimate that the un-mounted run took about 10 minutes, assuming you didn't try to go through the middle of the easily avoidable Murloc camp. In principle, you could also spend some massively long time on the auto-bird from Auberdine. However, the only way you would have gotten there would have been by taking the wrong boat from Menethil, unless you were for some reason fond of grinding Centaurs in out-of-the-way Desolace.

Present (WoW Patch 3.1)

The basic ground mount became available at level 30 about a year ago, and learned to tread water (same swim speed as an unmounted character, but you don't have to wait to remount when you emerge). The advent of the minor glyph means that my rogue can now sprint across the surface of the water at mounted speed for 15 seconds at a time, which significantly decreases the time it takes to get out to the rock where Nat Pagle lives.

Getting to Theramore is substantially easier. Mages have a direct portal. There is a flight path from Ratchet. Anyone can bind their 30-minute cooldown hearthstone to Dalaran (extra teleportation for Cheerydeth courtesy of the Inscription profession), take the portal to the Caverns of Time, and make a brief ride through the Tanaris desert to fly to Theramore.

Soon (Patch 3.2)

The originally level 40 mount will drop from level 30 to level 20, and the faster epic ground mount will be available at level 40. The casting time will also be reduced to 1.5 seconds, which adds up if you're mounting and dismounting frequently enough.

The thing is, I don't see the supposed challenge that has been taken away from the next generation. What was harder about spending more time watching your character auto-run? The one additional mob that you might decide to stop and fight after it dazed you? Does that outweigh the dozen additional mobs you will be able to fight during the time you will save in transit by being on a 100% ground mount at level 40? What was more challenging about a 10-minute quasi-AFK autorun from Ratchet? The chance that you'd be distracted by the baseball game you were watching and forget about the one camp of murlocs? (Ironically, Blizzard actually added some aggressive mobs amongst the non-aggro turtles, extending the portion of the beach where the player needs to pay at least some minimal attention.)

Access to content
The fact is that the actual content in old world Azeroth isn't as bad as people think it is. The old quests lack the custom scripted eye candy events of Northrend, but the underlying gameplay is the same as anywhere else in WoW. The difference is that the developers didn't think twice about putting the followup to the quest I did last night in Dustwallow Marsh all the way on the other side of the world in the Swamp of Sorrows. There isn't really any added challenge in taking a boat, no fewer than three flight paths (you couldn't queue these up either, so you had to dismount and talk to the flightmaster at each stop to take the next leg), and a run across a zone patrolled by aggressive, PVP-flagged orc guards to kill a dozen spiders either. However, old school WoW's exp curve required that players clear out a much larger proportion of the game's total content, and the hope was no doubt that players would stumble across some of the handful of Alliance quests in the Swamp.

Personally, I think the move to level 20 ground mounts is a good change (try running across Ashenvale without one sometime), and the move to level 40 epic ground mounts is unnecessary but largely harmless. I would have instead added more of an emphasis on regional teleport hubs (e.g. adding Theramore and Stonard portals to Dalaran) with players using local travel by flight paths and mounts to reach their final destination. I would also add a requirement, present in EQ2, that players actually visit a given location before being allowed to teleport there in the future.

Some bloggers, often ones who proudly declare that they don't like WoW anymore (sometimes backing that statement up by actually not playing WoW anymore), argue that players need to be forced to spend time watching their characters travel places, even though that time is largely non-interactive, in order to see how big the world is. I would argue that it's the content of the world, rather than its sheer size, that is really impressive. Cutting down on travel - not eliminating it entirely, but streamlining the process of returning to locations players have already reached - allows players to retain a sense of the scale and layout of the world while putting more of the content front and center.


Andrew said...

People are actually bitching about "dumbing down" the travel part of the game? Uhm.... okay, but I haven't seen it.

I quit WoW due to the "increased accessibility" drive in the raiding end game, but that's a far cry fom what you say people are up in arms about.

Do you have a few examples of this sort of complaint to share?

Anonymous said...

The game isn't really any easier or harder than it was with the exception of new content being tweaked.

The only change is its easier to get started.

On my server the people that are complaining are those that don't want anyone to get to their level of achievement and gear. Or they are mad because they aren't compensated for the time/money spent on mounts.

These complaints are silly. And it basically goes back to: "I want to raid and be the best at everything in the game because I'm a raider". The game has expanded a lot since then. I've seen raiders be terrible at heroics because they aren't used to a small group. Or terrible in pvp because they don't practice.

Yeebo said...

I certainly agree that the mount and travel time changes are great. For an MMO that emphasizes accessibility, some of the travel times in launch WoW were next to insane.

However the last time I picked up WoW, right around the launch of WotLK, the combat seemed considerably easier than I remembered. The feeling I had was that changes to the talent trees, the addition of glyphs, and the removal of most elites from leveling areas has made the solo game a bit too easy these days (to my tastes). And I'm not talking in terms of artificial downtime.

At first it was fun absolutely shredding everything in sight. However, eventually I found I just wasn't having any fun solo.

A highly subjective impression I will allow.

Malchome said...

Another question to ask all of those complaining about the game getting easier. Is it truly changing in difficulty or are your standards getting higher as you get better? Yes your power level in relationship to the mobs has been changing and getting normalizes so that tanks and healers don't have to work 2-3 times as hard to get the same throughput of a dps class.

Klepsacovic said...

People seem to mix up challenges and obstacles. Then they complain about the problem which only exists because their minds don't work well.

I can understand objections to making everything quicker and more convenient. Inconvenience adds to the perceived value and sometimes adds immersion. I still think all the stuff related to Dark Iron was cool. However it should be noted it would be a terrible idea to embrace inconvenience as a general game mechanic in order to foster a sense of immersion. That just wouldn't be fun.

Inconvenience should not vanish entirely, but it should be used very sparingly and with much caution.

LarĂ­sa said...

It's absolutely great for people who are levelling alts. I'm not entirely sure it's for the better for absolutely new players. Even though running not always is challanging, it can add to the immersion. And levelling in Outlands will definitely be very different. Hellfire... the horror... oh those were the days. But levelling up these days is quite different anyway - there are so few players around and those who are just want to rush through the content to get to endgame. So the change of mounts was just a natural consequence of the change of the game as it expands.

Xtian said...

@ Larisa - A new player loses immersion into what? There is next to no "MMO" before one gets to Northrend on most servers. The biggest interactions a new player would have with others would be listening to Trade and listening to LFG for groups that are too high level. My alts can go whole play sessions at a time without seeing anyone if I'm working in some remote place like Silithus. At this point, Blizzard is much more likely to lose a new player by making them take the circa 2005 travel route than by speeding up their leveling.

Anonymous said...

I'd actually love to see them place a goblin teleporter in Dalaran. Not for engineers, but for everyone.

It's a pretty dumb little change, especially for Gadgetstan, but for out of the way Booty Bay or Winterspring it might be nice.

Honestly, one of the best changes they could possibly make is getting rid of the entire auto-bird feature (and sounds and animations) completely and just making you teleport. Would it harm the RP aspect? maybe a little. Would it save ABSURD amounts of time (your Auberdine > Ashenvale or the old Auberdine > Tanaris...)? yes. Yes it would.

sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sam said...

Yeah I tried leveling a completely new character on a server where I knew no one. And it convinced me the old game that was so lovingly crafted is dead. I spent hours trying to put together simple runs. Had to argue with people that honestly believed a group of people at the appropriate level couldn't run instances without someone who was 20 or more levels above.

But the most dissapointing thing was the every day constant barrage from everyone mocking anyone who wanted to do any content that wasn't end game. The steady message was don't bother with that old junk just hurry up and power level yourself to the real game.

And most of the real new players that had never played the game either quit because of that or knew someone in game and gave up and had them powerlevel them up to where the player base was.

They'd be better off at this point just letting people log in and creat a level 70 that would give them 10 levels to learn thier class and get to the majority of the player base. And if they can't learn thier class in 10 levels they wont learn it in 70 so any argument about how bad it'll make the player base is just silly.

Good players learn bad players don't and 100 levels of learning content wont' change that

Dblade said...

Oddly enough, the more pain in the ass something is, the more players will look back on it fondly. In FFXI, you cannot get much more pain in the ass than the chains of promathia missions. People lost friends over it, the missions were so hard, and there was no room for improvisation, you got the walkthrough and followed it completely or you wiped, and sometimes you wiped anyways.

Yet for FFXI players it was the high point of the game. Despite that so few people helped out others after they had finished that they had to make missions easier and more convienient by eliminating death penalties and adding exp to the fights.

While making it easier is much easier on players, sometimes they don't really want it easier, its nice to have that shared reference between players about the trek to jeuno, or suffering through valkurm dunes.

Anonymous said...

Yes, people are complaining about the "dumbing down" of the game. But access to mounts is NOT what they're complaining about.

Leveling up lowbies has never been easier, and it's not because of mounts. It's because the actual content has been nerfed into the ground.

Mobs that were formerly elites are no long elite.

Mobs have less health than they used to, and in many cases are also lower level than they used to be, even in instances, and the amount of XP gained from killing them has been increased.

Rare spawns that used to require a concerted effort by a group to take down are now easily soloed, even by a clothie.

THAT is what people are complaining about, not mounts.

Plastic Rat said...

Yeah, as the previous poster said. It's got nothing to do with mounts, it's due to the fact that mobs at my level don't pose a challenge anymore.

No more elite mobs to fear. Most stuff barely hits hard enough to damage you.

XP is thrown at you so fast that you out level areas long before you finish all the quests there, and that makes finishing the rest even more trivial.

If anything, the game is now even more of a time-consuming chore.

Add to that the emphasis on 'LEVEL UP GO QUICK LEVEL UP FASTER NOW!!!!' and you actually don't get to just enjoy the game.

When was the last time you could actually get a group for Deadmines, SFK or any where else without somebody bringing their brother's Deathknight to run everyone through everything?