Thursday, October 28, 2010

Balancing Polish And Ambition In Cataclysm

Chris at Game By Night argues that the state of WoW's Patch 4.0 is so bad that Blizzard has forfeited its claim to superior quality and polish.  Personally, I'm not at all convinced that the bug and balance situation is significantly worse than we've seen in the past - take the time when patch 3.0.8 forced Blizzard to disable Wintergrasp to keep it from killing the servers for just one example. 

(Or the highly unreliable server stability for game's first 3-6 months, when, incidentally, there was no PVP system and extremely limited and buggy raid options.) 

That aside, I'm more interested in addressing the second half of Chris' argument. 

Is the lore revamp all or nothing?
We've known since Cataclysm's announcement that the old world revamp was only slated to cover levels 1-60.  Zones like Azshara and Felwood are much worse off than anything you'll find in Outland because Blizzard had not planned to offer quests all the way to the cap to begin with, and didn't have time to do more than a cursory effort on the upper mid-levels before the game's initial launch.  (After launch, they had level-capped characters to worry about, and could afford only token efforts on the leveling game.) 

The problem is that this revamp is not just updating the local quests to meet modern design standards (e.g. not repeatedly sending players back and forth across multiple zones).  The timeline of the entire world is actually advancing past the fall of the Lich King, which means that these old expansions are literally years in the world's past. 

Blizzard made a comment at Blizzcon that they simply did not have time to redo the first two expansions, and Chris jumps on it, accusing them of not finishing the job of updating the lore so that the game can release in time for the holidays.

More Ambition, Mo' Problems?
WoW is currently two years out from its last expansion and an entire year out from its last significant new content.   The looming expansion has posed a morale problem for many guilds for as much as six months now, and there's a very real argument to be made that even an unfinished expansion would be better than none at the moment.  More importantly, the only reason why it's taking so long is because Cataclysm is actually a very ambitious expansion. 

Wrath of the Lich King launched with about 1,000 new quests.  Cataclysm is launching with a whopping 3,500.  Cataclysm will actually offer more new zones per level than Wrath did (five zones for five levels, versus eight zones for ten levels - I don't count Crystalsong because there are like two quests in the entire "zone") even while gutting and overhauling literally thousands of old world zones and quests (and adding two races, with new zones of their own).  The same type of math works on dungeons - there will be fewer completely new dungeons, butt more total dungeon work as Blizzard revamps a dozen old world leveling dungeons.

It's simply not reasonable to expect Blizzard to take all of that and then also expect them to go through and redo the entire contents of the game's first two expansions.  If the rules had been that Blizzard must revamp the entire game up to the present day lore or not touch any of it, an expansion like Cataclysm simply would not have been possible. 

If "when it's ready" for Cataclysm does indeed end up being a bit less polished than 1.0/2.0/3.0 (again, all of which had their growing pains), that's the cost of having Blizzard actually try something difficult and ambitious instead of churning out another cookie cutter 10-level expansion.  Time will tell, but it looks to me like the results will be well worth the price. 


Anonymous said...

One point that you fail to note is that leveling from 80-85 is supposed to take the same amount of time as going from 70-80 did in WotLK. Therefore, they are providing fewer zones/time leveling, which should be the real measure, not zones/levels.

That said, I'm not in the beta (and am avoiding content spoilers as much as possible), so I have no idea of how the zones stack up vs. the WotLK.

Jonathan said...

All of what you say is true, but the end result, to me as a customer, is that I'm far less inclined to want to purchase it right off. Further, where in the past I have had no reservations purchasing a Blizzard product because they held off "until it is ready" now I'm more cautious.

We'll see how it all plays out, but I just purchased EQ2 and am enjoying playing it greatly. Without the bugs, balance problems, and significant concerns about Cataclysm I would not have. Bliz opened the door, made it clear that they only marginally cared about my business, and I've given their competition a chance.

Will I stick with EQ2? I don't know. I do know that I passed up on Age of Conan, Guild Wars, Warhammer, Darkfall, and EQ2 until now.

hound said...

After my friend got me into WoW (just before original Naxramas was released) I began to visit the WoW forums and was reading a lot of doom/gloom even then.

When I told my friend that I was concerned that I was wasting my time (since the game was "obviously" on its way to failure according to the message boards).

He told me not to listen to that stuff and it was only going to get worse when the next patch was released. Because people like to focus on negatives.

Every single patch and expansion since then has proven his point. Even old players spontaneously become grouchy over a few bugs from time to time.

I have one character at level 80. I am a slow player who likes to enjoy the world I am playing in. It's not all about progression for me. Sometimes I'll go into the Barrens just to experience the "eternal" golden sunset atmosphere.

It pleases me that Blizzard was willing to put time and resources into the old world. My only disappointment being that there is a limit to how fast something can be built with a measure of quality, no matter how much money you throw at it.

Bronte said...

@Anonymous - Ths zones are quite extensively detailed and some of the quests and locations are actually quite satisfying and fun to play.

That being said, this post, especially Blizzard's claim they they "don't have time to revamp" has really got me concerned. This is the same company that told us about Diablo III well over 28 MONTHS ago, and we haven't even heard a single peep about the beta yet. The same company that said there may be a good two year gap between SC2: WoL and SC2: HotS. Now they don't have time to revamp all of the old world?

Shame really. But then again, you look at the sheer volume of content in the new zones, and the leveling revamp in the older zones, and realize that they have perhaps put in more work in this expansion than in any other in the recent years.

I guess time will tell!

Primrose said...

4.0 made me very angry (I'm a grounchy old player): it was a huge regression for Mac performance of the game (huge fps drop)

4 0.1 corrected that

4.0.3(beta) improves a lot

So yeah blizzard works. A lot. Sometimes a huge patch is hard to make perfect, tiny patches correct that.

But deep in heart we believe blizzard and fairies can't exist. Someday activision will make them evil, passion will be forgotten, bad juju, reality will hit or whatever and then blizzard will be dull as everything should be.

We are cynical. So every moves or mistakes is now the proof that's it! Blizzard is no more. Mass panic ensues.

For example star craft 2 trilogy , the final proof blizzard only cares is my hard winning money and my blood by milking the beloved star craft 1 (!)
but in reality, what a content is in the first episode ! It sure is ambitious. Trying to be a lot more than the first game. In every aspect.

About cataclysm , the sheer amount if work, improvement in details, graphics, mechanics, interface and content is truly impressive. Of course I would like more, a whole Outland redone and whatever, but I understand the reality of humans possibilities in 2010 : I'm already impressed.

Hateful trolls are not grounchy old players. Hateful trolls take anything and explain how dispicable their own life is and so should be yours.