What Happened to WoW?

DPS logo

Easy – Obsession with numbers happened to WoW.

I wrote a few years ago about the DPS Meters, Theorycrafting and what I thought their impact was on MMOs. I think it’s more true today than it was then. This isn’t to say that WoW doesn’t have a myriad of other problems because it does but I think this is a foundational issue with WoW. But I can’t help but think that Blizzard’s momentum of bad decisions might have actually started to overcome the community inertia that kept the game on top.

While the obsession with numbers started with players and DPS meters, it slowly infected the designers. Bit by bit, designers at Blizzard created a game no doubt looks perfect in a spreadsheet, but utterly lacks any soul. The obsession over bigger numbers and number balance and no class being preferred over another for any reason drained the soul of the game. Ancillary systems were stripped down or tossed aside entirely. The core of the model, the gear treadmill, was so brutalized by the blind zealotry to spreadsheet design as to make the gear immaterial.

Class & Ability Diversity

The option to play your class the way that you want has been cut out, replaced by a series of “fun,” but meaningless choices that don’t change the way you play your character in any significant fashion and can be changed at a moments notice so there’s no risk-reward for any decision. Blizzard stubbornly stamps it feet and declares these to be meaningful, fun choices while the opposite is true – there is no choice. I am reminded of the saying, “You can have any color you want! As long as it’s black.”

Unique play-styles and abilities have been systematically carved off because they provided too much of a numbers benefit to one class or another, or is too powerful against another class, or made a single encounter too easy. We are left with nondescript blobs of generic abilities as classes that are min-maxed by design but have no real identity of their own. Sure the aesthetics of a rogue and a monk are different, but the base is so much the same as to be interchangeable. Ele Shaman is basically a mage with nature themed spells and can be treated as such. Enh Shaman is a warrior with nature themed abilities instead of rage. You play one over the other not because there’s any great difference game-play, but because you like the pretty of one over the other.

Other Systems

Do you remember when crafting was at least kind of part of the game? It’s clear that it was never truly part of the core game-play as the item you created were often beyond useless. But for a while it was at least fun and engaging in it’s own red-headed stepchild kind of way. Now, it’s been gutted. Crafting had the potential through minor bonuses to have too much of an impact on the numbers and was effectively lobotomized as a result. It’s useless to the point of nearly being punishing for wanting to craft. 99% of the items you create you will destroy or vendor because no one wants them — not even you. But they are required for you to create to get up to the highest tier were can create 1-2 consumable items that quickly become required, and you’ll never craft anything else again.

The Artifact system was brutally ripped out of the game with almost no rationale other than anemic line of text if you happened to look to look to see why your class suddenly played very different. Instead they replaced it with the so-generic-you-don’t-even-care-about-it Heart of Azeroth. Like specs and class diversity before it, it replaced a system that was engaging and fun with one that left no meaningful choice and perfectly predictable progression of numbers.

The Gear Treadmill

It’s somewhat strange when you think about the fact that a game where gear is paramount that gear paradoxically also doesn’t matter. Gear has been so stripped of personality and utility to be utterly forgettable and immaterial to the game at large. Randomized stats are applied to random weapon models with nonsensical and completely lore-ignorant naming. Blizzard has arrived at the absurd place where they’ve devalued gear for the sake of the numbers it stacks.

WoW vs. Rift and Gamers

I’m finding as time goes on, Gamers are perhaps the most obnoxious group of people.  I don’t know–there must be something about playing the hero all the time, donning our pixel armor and awesome hair (you have to admit, the blood elves have GREAT hair) that make us feel like social skills are something not worth grinding.

This all comes out of the Facebook post for the Rift 1.3 patch announcement.  While most of the comments on the post are positive, there are some people who come on just to say how horrible the game is, how they can’t wait for it to die, etc.  This is responded to by people to telling them to go back to that heinously terrible game, World of Warcraft.  The whole thing degraded (at the time of this writing … 13:27pm EST) into a name calling fest.  And in my rage, wrote a huge post on there, that decided was better served on my blog … which has been sadly neglected of late.

I just don’t get it – why is it so alien to some people that they cannot like a game, but someone else can …with good reason?  There was so much vitriol flying around about which game was better, it’s like no one cares whether they actually enjoyed the game.  At that point, what’s the point?

I have a subscription to WoW, but I haven’t logged in to actually play in probably 6 months.  The game, for me, lost the luster because it lost the ability for me to be wrong.  I have just as much of a chance of failing in raid because I lagged than I did because I didn’t know the fight.  Blizzard’s current definition of skill is not something I find engaging. I want my skill to be measure by more than knowing not to stand in fire.  Complex rotations, having to do research and find out what others have done – that’s engaging to me.  Mutlimodally engaging as well (across multiple media, if you were unsure).

 Does that mean the World of Warcraft is a horrible game?  Absolutely not.  Does it mean that I think WoW is the greatest game ever?  Absolutely not.  You see, I have my personal opinion on the matter, but  I treat my opinion as subjective, not objective fact.  It’s a matter of taste, not a matter of fact.

That being said, I still  my subscription open in the hopes WoW will again become a game I want to play.  Right now, I find the game Rift to be so much more engaging – even though it’s not perfect.  It does a lot of really great things, and actually has some staying power against WoW, which is great.  Most sub-MMOs can’t say that.  Rift took some cues from WoW, but it also took them from WAR, AoC, and a few others try and make something new, and better.  One of the best qualities in my mind is the class system.  It feels like Anarchy Online a little bit where I could choose however the hell I want.  It might not be the best choice, and it was harder to level up and harder to make use of, but damn I could do it I wanted.  While not 100% the same, it has the same spirit.

It also reminds me a bit of D&D with the open ended way they do things.  They do lots of things well–public groups, public quests, zone wide events regularly.  The class system is complex enough that it’s almost impossible to have true cookie cutter specs, but not so complex that you need a PhD to figure out what to do.

Clearly, as it stands Rift is more to my taste at the moment.  Is Rift better than WoW?  Nope, not at all, but it is different, and those pieces that are different are the pieces that I dislike about WoW.  So, I prefer Rift.  So why the vitriol?  Why the trolling?  Why do gamers have to be on the forefront of proving the Internet Fuckward Theory?  I wish I had answers to these questions.

Other people say it’s the anonymity of the Internet that brings it out, I have to say I feel like it’s more than that.  Sure, that helps, but I can’t help but feel like it’s something else.  Maybe it’s the feeding the trolls–they do it cause they get a rise out of people.  But why the absolutes – what is it about the Internet that says that everything has to be good and bad.  Black and white, if I dislike something, it automatically has to be bad.  Maybe it comes from our polarizing in games – the clear cut good guy and bad guy.  The faux-moral choices of “Save the Maiden” or “Eat the maiden’s baby off of her face,” that make people so willing to fling around the absolutes–but doesn’t explain the vitriol spewing forth.

I don’t know – just a rant – this bothers me.  I just want everyone to get along.

TL;DR – I hate trolls; Rainbows and Ponies for everyone!