Have you ever tried to go back and re-read the original Dragonlance Chronicles?  It’s rough.  I loved them when I first read them in middle school. They weren’t the first fantasy novels I had read (that honor goes to Magician: Apprentice), but they became part of my hook into the genre. This year, I went back and re-read them during a lull in the book release schedule.

It was rough. Like, really rough.  The books are great… for their time. But the Fantasy genre has evolved and matured quite a lot since they were written. They felt … old guard. I still love the stories, but the experience of reading the books wasn’t the same.  Re-reading helped me remember that both I and the genre has grown quite a bit since they were written.

I felt the same when this fall when I went back to World of Warcraft after a break of a few years. The nostalgia is much the same. I’ll always love the idea of the game and the game is amazing for what it is, but the experience of playing wasn’t the same as it was back in 2007. The problems that made me leave the game are still there.

Blizzard: We will give you meaningful choices…by removing all your choices

Since Wrath, WoW has been on barking up the “meaningful choices” tree.  They thought that the original talent system was too complex and resulted in cookie-cutter builds.  So to make more build variety they simplified the system and took away most of the depth and complexity. At the same time, they simultaneously took away any risk by making every choice completely inconsequential. Despite attempting to give players more meaningful choices, Blizzard removed most of our choices and took the weight out of any decision players make.

Early in the game’s life, players received a talent point every few levels to invest and changing your talents was a hassle. Each talent point could go into any of the 3 talent trees at any time. Players had to go to a trainer and pay a fee to have their talents reset.  In WoW’s more recent history players receive talents (not even talent points) at predetermined levels and each talent tier has a static 3 choices, which can be adjusted at any time.

So not only are there fewer choices for character development and growth in the game than ever before, the impact of those few choices is undermined by being able to change everything about your build whatever you want.  No choice has consequence or weight–which is to say, it’s not really a choice anymore.

Blizzard: No really, this is how you want to play.  Trust us, we know best.

Over the years, the hubris of Blizzard has exponentially increased. It’s not uncommon for Blizzard to tell players what’s fun and what isn’t fun…independently of how players actually want to play.  Then they ignore players when it’s clear they were wrong until the angst reaches a fever pitch (and they get lots of unsubs because of it).

We’ve seen this countless times–despite being largely considered a failure, Blizzard continued to double down on Garrisons and ignore the negative impact they had on the game.  Blizzard says flying isn’t fun, so it adds as many barriers to being able to fly in the game possible.  Blizzard says showing your real name on the forum without your consent is a great idea. The list goes on and on.  Nothing has changed in Legion–Blizzard continues to (doggedly) tell us what’s fun instead of letting players just play what’s fun in the game.  When players say they want housing, Blizzard’s response is “You explicitly asked for housing, but you don’t really want housing, you want this other thing that doesn’t really have any of the features as housing. Garrisons!”

It’s really hard to make a train change directions

Finally, for all its growth and change, WoW is still very much a game on rails–the pinnacle of the theme park.  There is one path and a limited number of Blizzard sanctioned ways to play that game. Every design choice Blizzard makes doubles down on the philosophy that everything in-game must be scripted and accounted for. A player should never be able to go off the reservation.  The core fundamental experience of WoW has remained static for years now. That is to say, the leveling experience is largely a single player affair with brief flirtations with grouping, and the end-game is an instanced lobby raider.

In an age when games are striving to provide less scripted experiences and more organic and games are allowing players off the straight and narrow to varied and messy, WoW stands as a relic of an MMO age past.