Monday, November 29, 2010

Scattered Shattering Impressions

When I appeared on the Multiverse earlier this year, Chris asked me whether I thought that Blizzard's strategy with Cataclysm - taking time to revamp the old world at the expense of less higher level content - will allow them to hold the attention of longtime and potentially bored players.  Having spent a bit of time in the shattered world, my guess is that it will not. 

The cinematic approach comes to level 5.

Conflicting Goals
As I wrote on Twitter while rolling up five new alts over the last week, the new starter zones have a very "My Cataclysm, Let Me Show You It" feel to them.  NPC dialog (which the player may or may not be required to stay and watch) does its best to point out exactly what it is about the world your new character has entered that would not have been true two weeks ago.  In some ways, this experience seems more tailored as a sales pitch to returning vets (of which there are many, at least on the blogosphere) than actual newbies (who won't know what the story was before).

At the same time, Blizzard's efforts for simplified skill/spell progression have left those early levels surprisingly boring from a gameplay perspective.  New casters literally spend two levels mashing a single button ad naseum because they only have the one spell.  Combat may be balanced for characters who aren't carrying a heirloom arsenal, in the sense that the mobs pose the correct level of challenge level to players, but it is designed to lack the tactical depth that comes with more situational spells that the character will gain later (sometimes much later) in life.  This may help newbies learn the basics, but it paradoxically makes the early levels feel trivial for the vets that the story appears to be aimed at. 

(Meanwhile, I almost regret my decision to pursue as many heirlooms as I did.  I put a throwaway Night Elf Mage on my Horde server, where I "only" had access to heirloom shoulders and an enchanted staff, because I only have so many slots to spare on my main server with my main arsenal.  The character proceeded to one-shot his way through much of Teldrassil.)

I thought my twink gear was OP, but at least my arms aren't wings.

Upside in the Shattering
The real upside to the revamp comes at the game's mid-levels.  Players who are looking to burn through to max level ASAP to join the group game can rest assured that they will no longer be forced to run all the way across a zone just to turn in a FedEx quest that doesn't award enough exp to justify the largely non-interactive travel time.  Players who actually enjoy the "tourist" solo game offered in the two expansions can now expect the same types of vehicles, scripted events, and convenient travel that are found in the game's more recent content; you're probably going to run out of races and classes that you haven't already played before you run out of content.

(Alternately, you can go back on a flying mount after Cataclysm to blaze through the new stuff on a level 60+ character just to see the storylines.)   

All that said, Cataclysm does not (and indeed should not) fundamentally change the game experience itself. Players who complained that the last expansion was too much of an "on rails" experience really don't have any grounds to claim shock when an expansion that promised to make the old world like Northrend delivered on its word.  Though there definitely is some neat new content here, the re-roll experience is designed to go quickly, and players who weren't alt-o-holics before probably aren't such completionists that they're going to feel compelled to re-roll multiple times. 

If anything, my biggest concern with the revamp is whether Blizzard has planned for the next Cataclysm.  The current story is very strongly rooted in a sense of "this happened RIGHT after Wrath".  This is really neat now, but in a few years it may seem as dated as the journey into a Northrend still ruled by Arthas is today.  Problems for another time I suppose. 


Xaxziminrax II said...

>I thought my twink gear was OP, but at least my arms aren't wings.

Blizzard needs to implement a Dalaran solution for this: trade in a couple heirlooms, get armwings.

>This is really neat now, but in a few years it may seem as dated as the journey into a Northrend still ruled by Arthas is today.

and then you walk into Outland and realize that the draenei are trying to escape Illidan's oppression RIGHT NOW! This is the weakest point of MMOs and something you have to 'turn the other cheek' to. I don't see a way of fixing thing without introducing phasing into every zone and quest, and that would remove what's left of the "MM" from the game.

Alternatively, if you had "old world" wow and "cataclysm" wow on different phases, you could level to 80/85 in old world, then the whole world phases after a cut scene and you can level to 160/170 using the cataclysm content of the same zones!

Klepsacovic said...

The content is certainly fun, but I'm not sure it's buying much time. Leveling is ridiculously fast, even without any heirlooms. Maybe Blizzard didn't realize just how much leveling time was spent on travel; time which is saved now.

Longasc said...

The "new" post-Cataclysm WoW makes me wonder why people still play this game.

It is a guided bus tour through Azeroth, more so than ever, an on-rails experience. The elements of challenge and failure, the whole *game* has been removed. Because you are supposed to follow an extremely questgiver guided path to max level, now more so than ever before.

I only tried the new Troll starter zone, and while it comes with bells, whistles it is still collect 5-6x and do this or that. The overarcing "story" to these quests is not really present. Blizzard is too busy to guide people through their dia show world. It is not your world, if one even can call this a world.

Now I understand why people hate levelling, apparently WoW must be all about the dungeon running, as the world is a linear and meaningless questing experience that discourages grouping, as it is not needed - there is no challenge, no need for groups, it is all simple solo tasks you must fulfill to follow the directed gaming experience Blizzard set up for you.

Post-Cataclysm WoW has patched the game and the world out of World of Warcraft. For everyone who expects anything else besides dungeon running for tokens for eternal gear progression and "achievements", this game is as shallow and entertaining as a puddle.

What I really liked were the changes to some classes, Warlocks and Hunters come to mind. Still, having 3 trees and having to spec 30 of 35 points into a tree before you can put them anywhere else? The trees don't have more than 35-37 points, so yeah, complete guidance, hard to screw up at all. But one wonders why one has to spend points at all, the differences between talent builds have become so neglible that one can give a damn about talent guides and discussion about their build by now.

The world changed after Cataclysm, but does it matter? They "optimized" questing so that you will forever follow your solo-friendly path without need for help, companions, cameraderie, experimentation.

The world and game have become a vehicle to support instanced dungeon running. That's the only multiplayer or somewhat "massive" part of WoW by now, the dungeons and raids.

For new players the dungeon running continues, with all the convenience and anonymous boredom of the dungeon finder. I cannot help, but there was more "world" to Warcraft 6 years ago.

For veterans: Dungeons/Raids as usual!
For new players: The ultimate and ever more tightly controlled "MMO" ? experience.

For veteran players, a boring chore to level in such an uninspired our story fits all approach, don't dare to deviate.
For new players? No wonder they hate the levelling experience, as excitement and game are only to be found in dungeons.

With so little emphasis on the world, low system requirements and a "polished" and bug free *gaming* (?) experience are the hallmarks of WoW.

I rather suggest reading a book, it is a less linear experience, you can skip chapters if they are boring. Maybe you can do so as well in WoW, but Blizzard does not approve of such actions and deviations from the golden quest path for everyone.

Next time I read the new player experience, which now seems to go far beyond level 20, maybe even 40, is wonderful and certainly fun, I can only answer dead serious in Troll style:

Yo crazy, man!

Fish said...

I did some questing with a dwarf shaman on a new server (no heirlooms), but I've been using RAF to power level. Last night in duskwood I was putting up over 100k xp/hr. I did 2 whole levels in 15 mins. Although I enjoy quick leveling, that is almost ridiculous.

Bronte said...

Problems for another time indeed.

I love the fact that no matter what the MMO industry tries, Blizzard always manages to stay two steps ahead of the competition by always providing something newer, more interesting and better fleshed out.

Guinadrodd said...

I think the issue is that Blizzard doesn't have a great story-telling method in their engine. The short quest text gives a flavour of what is going on, but doesn't generally show you what happened (or better yet let you experience it). The only exception in my mind was the DK starting zone. I am hoping to be surprised by something similar with this expansion.

The best story in years (giant dragon breaks into the world, chaos ensues) and we mostly just get to deal with the aftermath.

In regards to Fedex quests, I actually enjoy travelling in a virtual world. I did not really enjoy how short the distance from quest giver to quest generally was in Northrend. Unfortunately for Blizzard, I've discovered that LotRO is closer to the vanilla/BC WoW experience that I loved.

Copernicus said...

I see this as a method of lowering the entry cost. Currently you have to buy Basic, Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm, to get a full gaming experience. However, BC and WotLK are outdated expansions now... wasted money.

I see the potential now for new accounts to just buy Basic and Cataclysm to have the full 85 level experience available to them. Of course, they would have to have leveling zones from 60-80 added to the basic Azerorth continents. Outlands and Northrend could then be completely skipped, with no disruption of the timeline.

Tesh said...

Longasc, I should note that even though the game is more "on rails" than ever before, you're not forced to stay on the Yellow Brick Road. You can meander wherever you want. I can still take a baby Dwarf to Northrend and suicide against shoveltusks if I want to. (As I did last night, just to look around.) Those who can't self-direct will find the game holds their hand, but there's still plenty of world out there to explore, and it looks better than it ever did.

Keith said...

You say: "New casters literally spend two levels mashing a single button ad naseum because they only have the one spell."

In fairness, you should also point out that those levels only last for about 2-3 quests or about 15 to minutes of game time.

It is also worth pointing out that combat plays a much less significant role in questing now. You as often as not trying to master a new game mechanic (such as planting bombs, etc) then you are just smashing mobs.

Yeebo said...

I see this mainly as a move to get burned out vets to come back to WoW. Most of the potential western market for an MMO has likely tried WoW at one time or another by now. I know that the changes to quest mechanics and character designs have freshened the game considerably for me.

I doubt the zones and quests would be nearly as interesting if I didn't remember the old ones.

Anonymous said...

The game is easy and very guided, no doubt, but I agree with Tesh: you aren't forced into following a particular path. For instance, you mention the low levels being too easy after having acquired heirloom gear. Simple solution to that is not to wear it! Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to use it :)

Anonymous said...

honestly, if you are complaining about story, you haven't completed all the silverpine and then hillsbrad forrest quests as horde.

SERIOUSLY. Go play those, it's blizzard at its best, I can tell by the comments that no one here has done so.