Monday, 1 October 2012

World of Warcraft: Where is it now?

Good Monday everyone!

Along with a good 9+ million other players I spent a lot of my free time last week playing the new WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria.

After reading two articles on Kotaku and Wired I thought I'd give my own opinions on the state of the Warcraft world all these years on.

First, for reference, the articles in question:

Now I'll let you draw your own conclusions about these articles, but if I could tell you about how I see the world (of Warcraft)...

I got into the game back when The Burning Crusade (TBC) launched. I remember levelling from 1 to 60 in the un nerfed 'old world'. Then hitting Outland and scraping myself to 70. After that I then spent days and days grinding dailies to earn the cash for Turbo flying followed by even more grinding to earn my Netherwing rep.

With hindsight? It was horrible! Sure we had some fun doing it, but it could have been so much better!

Then Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) launched and things started looking up. The levelling experience was more enjoyable, the dungeons became more thematic, and for the first time ever my guild and I were able to dabble in raids. Not because we had recruited enough to do so, but because the entry was scaled so that we could do so.

Now don't get me wrong, we weren't running around of Invincible (The Lich King's mount drop) holding his head high for all to see. In fact come the end of the expansion, it was only the entry level raids we could partake in, but that was better than TBC where the best we could hope for was Heroic Dungeons, and even they were hard!

It was at this time that WoW hit it's peak for players, 12 million I think was the figure?

Now as with every game, there's always someone who feels 'but hurt' and apparently having 'casuals' such as myself taking down Naxx while wearing T10 was an insult to those who were killing the Lich King (or something to that effect).

Enter Cataclysm, an expansion where Blizzard listened to the vocal minority of their community. They streamed the levelling content making it boring, they ramped up the difficulty in their dungeons meaning they were HARD (these were later reduced in difficulty, but personally the damage was already done).

For the first time subscription figures were dropping.

This was something I found very interesting. So WotLK supposedly the most 'casual friendly' expansion has record high players, but then Cataclysm, the expansion designed to provide more of a challenge to players, has record low players! Could that be a co-incidence? Well, yes it could. But I don't think it is.

Bring on Blizzcon 2011.

The WoW annual pass is announced, 100,000 players subscribe and get locked into the game for a further 12 months, at the same time earning a flying mount and a free digital copy of Diablo 3 when it was due to launch later in 2012.

Was this a ploy to hold onto players who were leaving? Of course it was! But was I going to turn down a mount and £40 game when I was going to be paying my monthly subscription anyway? He'll no!

It was at the same Blizzcon that the next expansion Mists of Pandaria was announced.

This was of course met with mixed reactions. I remember one guy at the Q&A saying "I love the game, but come on... Pandas??" And Chris Metzen (less than three) being obviously insulted by the tone of voice this basement dweller used.

This expansion promised a new race that could be taken by either the Horde or the Alliance, a new continent we can run around in, limited flying until max level, dungeons and raids going back to WotLK difficulty, while new Challenge Modes are introduced purely to give 'h4rdc0re' players their challenges.

At the same time, Strategies were to be introduced, allowing any 3 man team to play through a mini encounter for Justice Point rewards and of course, WoW: Pokemon, or Pet Battles as they called it.

Essentially they were saying: Hardcore or Casual, we want to give you something to do that you will enjoy!

Bring on the Summer of 2012, subscriptions hit an all time low at 9 million. The game is quiet compared to previous months, and the Pre expansion slump feels more obvious for some reason.

Fast forward to last week. Mists launches, THOUSANDS of Pandaran Monks are created and a mass of players swarmed to Pandaria.

Meer hours later, reports are coming in of log in queues up to eight hours long just to get onto the servers! There's a lot of players all trying to get on at once, and let me tell you. I can understand why!

You see, with virtually every expansion prior, once I've spent about a day or two in one zone I'm bored of it. I want to move onto the next one ASAP.

Currently I'm running around the Jade Forrest (the first zone) and I'm loving every minute. Every moment is a pleasure, with beautiful vistas, amazing music and fun interesting quests.

With every expansion Blizzard have pushed the boat out in regards to their graphic engine. Yes it is the same engine that was introduced roughly 7-8 years ago, but it still does the job. The characters are cartoony and fun looking, the spell effects are bright and vivid and the environments are atmospheric.

Sure the game doesn't look realistic, but if you pull up any game that aims for a realistic graphic engine, then look at it in a few years time and you can see the problems with it. What was top of the line graphics then is now no yesteryears rubbish. Just look at The Secret World. Don't get me wrong, I'm still really enjoying this game, but only a few months into its release, and the graphics are already starting to fade.

But Warcraft never tried to be realistic, from day 1 it went for a stylised cartoon effect.

I suppose the best way to look at WoW's graphics is to compare it to the multiple choice adventure computer games of the early 90s. Games like SNATCHER on the Mega CD (or Sega CD if your American).

Now these games were supposed to look like comic books or at least illustrated novels. They were never realistic, because they were never meant to be.

Load up one of these games now and you won't be disappointed, they look EXACTLY as you remember them, because even at the time their graphics were a bit crummy.

And that's WoW for you. It doesn't have realistic graphics, it might be agony a little thanks to its old engine, but in 10 years time it'll still look the way it was originally intended.

So ultimately we come to the question: Should you play MoP?

I'm afraid I can't answer that for you. I can only tell you of my tales of excitement and heroism and see if that inspires.

In the meantime I'm going back to my Undead Mad Scientist. He can hold his breath under water for a long time... A REAL long time...

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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