Warcraft is a Comic Book. It Should Be a Novel.

Although I used to be quite involved in World of Warcraft, I gradually grew tired of it, and about a year ago I canceled my account. It wasn’t that I was bored with it. I still wanted to play it, but the game had moved away from me, and no longer offered the experience it once did. When Wrath of the Lich King came out I was so far behind the curve I decided to cancel rather than upgrade. Here are some thoughts on what a game might do to get me back.

I thought I was a fairly serious player, but by the standards of most raiding guilds I was a relatively casual player. My main toon was at maybe 45ish when the Burning Crusade was released, and I didn’t ding 70 on a single toon till shortly after Lich King dropped. I’ve never gotten a Horde toon to 70. I’ve done very few raids or end-game dungeons. There is a lot of content I’ve never seen. And honestly I have little interest in seeing nerfed content with Level 80+ raiders and a group of folks who use add-ons and wikis that tell exactly how to precisely optimize each dungeon and quest. The game was a lot more fun in the early days before it became mostly an addiction for min-maxing button mashers.

I wish there were a way to instance more of the content so that I could effectively start from the beginning and experience it with others. The current situation is more like a comic book than a novel: e.g. reading Batman today you’re hopping in deep in the middle of the story (a major problem in comics for attracting new readers). Whereas with a novel series like Harry Potter, you start at the beginning and work your way through no matter whether you read it in 1998 or 2010.

I do like WoW’s general sense of world progression and world events, and I don’t want to see that go away. Nor do I want to play on an empty server. However I do wish there were a way for a character starting today to experience Ahn’Qiraj, Naxxaramas and the rest of it. I still remember when Blackrock Depths and Blackrock Spire were cool rather than the ghost towns they are today, but I never actually got to them.

I would love to see a fully instanced/phased game that allowed one to start a character at level 1 and work through the game at your own pace and experience the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj, the opening of the Burning Portal, the Scourge Invasion, etc. And be able to play the entire world with players of similar levels and progression without getting ganked by 80s or having my competition funded by level 80 alts. A player starting today at 1 misses so much. A 12 year old can pick up the Lord of the Rings and read it for the first time. She can watch Star Wars for the first time. She can play Oblivion for the first time, and still get pretty much the same experience her brother/mother/grandparent did 10/30/60 years ago. But there’s just no way to come at WoW as a newcomer any more. The magic and mystery, I’m afraid, is gone.

Here’s a thought: suppose servers had an in-game calendar? A new server could be started with an in game date of November 1, 2004 and run from there? Or maybe not even all servers start this way, but some do? Perhaps the calendar can be compressed a bit so eventually the servers catch up (but not too quickly). Allow characters to transfer backwards or forwards in time by switching servers if (and only if) they’ve reached or haven’t reached certain milestones. For instance, if my mage is still 45 when BC is rolled out to her server, let her move backwards to a v1 server. If a warrior dings 60, has killed Onyxia, and cleared Stratholme, Scholomance, and The Molten Core, let him transfer up to server at the next level.

Don’t allow gold and loot transfer between servers on different calendars. Do use the original experience tables. Don’t offer Recruit-a-friend and other bonuses. Twinks should be possible, but make them be earned from below, not bought from above. Blizzard doesn’t need to reproduce every bug from the early days. They could even upgrade the graphics and gameplay. (I would love an unlimited number of open quests.) But make it possible to play through the original game with the more-or-less the original mechanics and the original rules.

The point is to allow the old content to be experienced as new at a leisurely pace by those folks who haven’t seen it yet, not to be raced through on the way to Level 85 by someone leveling their seventeenth alt. Nor should people playing on a new server have to compete with gold-capped alts outfitted in T8+ gear. (On the flip side Blizzard might want to start Level 58+, 68+, and 78+ servers where anyone can roll any class at that level to start off to recruit more players who are bored with the original content.)

While you’re at it, if there’s any way the content can be more effectively randomized (e.g. different maps on different servers; more unpredictable distribution of monsters and loot) do it. Quest Helper and Thottbot have completely eliminated the magic and mystery that Warcraft once held. And I don’t just want to not use these cheats myself. I don’t want to play with people who use them. Today the only real unpredictability and interest the game holds is PvP. World content is just too well known and documented. Even new players are rapidly spoiled.

I’ve tried other games (Age of Conan, Aeon, Warhammer) but none of them came close to matching WoW’s usability, interest level, and depth. I’m considering reactivating my account for Cataclysm and see what the new races are like. Blizzard says they’re reinventing Azeroth and levels 1-60 in this release with new towns, new quests, and more. That could be fun. However if the game just turns into another race to 85, with every tip and trick already spoiled by Quest Helper and Thottbot, and where 90% of the players have already run three toons through in beta, I won’t stay long.

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