Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Warcraft: A retrospective look back

I’m not playing World of Warcraft at the moment. Nor do I have much interest at this point in playing the Cataclysm expansion.

There is no irrational hate here, just a lack of interest. To the contrary, I have very fond memories about WoW. And while I’m one of the first to point out all of Warcraft’s shortcomings, I think (as a whole) that Blizzard has done more things right over the years than wrong.

Millions of other people also support this idea as well. Say what you will about the game, but if they actually were screwing up the game at every turn, no one would be playing the game. The simple reality is that people do enjoy playing it and if they didn’t, then millions of them wouldn’t continue playing it.

Burning Crusade – The Design
In retrospect, I realize now that Burning Crusade was a lousy expansion. Oh, I suppose the leveling and questing experience was fine. Not as good as Wrath, but it was definitely an overall improvement to Vanilla WoW. I think if I am being critical here, it’s that there was only one entrance into Outland and it resulted in some crazy crowds at release.

There were some other improvements as well, like Flying Mounts, Heroic Dungeons, Badges of Justice, and Armor Tokens for Tier Pieces. But outside of those things, the expansion mostly sucked at end-game.

The biggest problem is that the transition path from a fresh 70 to an entry-level raiding 70 was idiotic. The entry-level raid dungeon, Karazhan, was very well done – but getting to that content was a serious pain in the ass.

You’ll recall that you needed to get “keyed” in order to get inside of Karazhan (which involved a lengthy quest chain). Now, the quest-chain for a key was not a new idea. This was pretty common in Vanilla WoW.

But at least here, there were more things to do and you hadn’t already been raiding at a level 50 only to hit this “key” wall at 60. Which meant that you didn’t have the expectation of raiding at level cap until well after you had done many of the level 60 dungeons.

Also, in Vanilla WoW, it was only important for one person to have been keyed in some of the starter dungeons. And for the others, it was a relatively easy dungeon crawl to get “attuned” to things like Molten Core.

To make matters worse, the next raid dungeon in Burning Crusade also required a separate “key” that could only be completed after an even longer quest chain involving the raid bosses in Kara. Even worse, this next dungeon wasn’t 10-man, but 25-man.

Now I’m no math wizard, but even I can tell that you can’t divide 25 by 10 evenly. In order to get even the minimum of 25, you needed at least three groups of 10.

Even worse, a 10-man group was typically made up of 2 Tanks, 2 Healers and 6 DPS.  If you multiply that by three, you end up with 6 Tanks, 6 Healers and 18 DPS.  25-man Raid composition needs 3 Tanks, 8 Healers, 14 DPS.  So too many Tanks and DPS, but not enough Healers.

The end result is that several progression walls were created. And even overcoming one wall (beating 10-man Kara) was then faced by the next wall (getting 15 more to do the next raid dungeon).

Frustrated players would hit a progression wall and might never get past it. I’ll always remember BBB (Big Bear Butt blogger) writing about how he effectively couldn’t get past Karazhan not for lack of gear or skill, but because he couldn’t overcome the social engineering challenge of getting other people to stay in his guild long enough to get everyone keyed for SSC.

On a personal note, I actually quit most of that whole raid progression game and focused on PvP for the last year of that expansion out of frustration.

Burning Crusade – Guild Drama
Design issues aside, much of my problem with Burning Crusade related to guild issues. I switched from a Horde to an Alliance server a bit after the expansion released with some real life friends. In doing so, we left our old Horde guild (we were part of the core group, but our Guild Leader had been absent for several weeks).

After a few months at 70 on the Alliance server, all but two of my real life friends had slowly stopped playing. The three of us then decided to go back to our old Horde server. We also wanted to play different classes (in my case, the same class I played on Alliance), so despite returning to the same server – it was a fresh reroll.

Surprisingly, our old guild didn’t die after we left. Our absent Guild Leader had returned and managed to reform a new core group of players. Like the prodigal sons returning, we joyously rejoined him.

This was a pretty big mistake.

It turned out that our Guild Leader was mostly the leader in name alone. He had a great aptitude for attracting and keeping players together, but pretty much assigned out the business of running raids to his raid leaders.

A big believer in more is better, he recruited a lot of people and the result was an elite group of maybe 20 people, followed by another 20 fighting for the 5 remaining raid spots.

Elite is likely the wrong word choice to describe that core group of players. In truth, this was just the best geared group – not necessarily the most skilled.

I think what was most frustrating to those players just outside of that group is that castoffs kicked out of other guilds were often given a raid spot based on gear quality and not their ability to actually perform. Needless to say, this group wiped a lot and stalled on a lot of content that similar guilds easily beat.

From my perspective, I never raided anything beyond a few Kara runs with this group. The issue for me was Raid time. Back when I left the server, the Raid time was a very convenient 8:00pm PST. I, and my other real life friends, live on the West Coast, so this worked out really well for us.

However, after we left, the group that filled our void was largely East Coast and preferred a 5pm raid time (forming at 4:30). I couldn’t even physically get home from work until 6:00 and wasn’t available to raid until 7:00pm.

I think I stayed in that guild far longer than I should have out of friendship with my old acquaintances. I never even got as far from a PvE progression standpoint as I had with my old Alliance guild. I eventually left for a PvP-focused guild (since that’s all I was doing).

Ironically, I ended up doing much more raiding with this PvP guild than I ever did with my former guild since we often paired up with another group once or twice a week to raid for gear. Go figure.

Wrath of the Lich King – No Guild Drama
It’s my sincere belief that most MMO players struggle with the types of Guild Drama issues that I described above. I think finding a “good guild” is more the exception than the rule and is likely why the solo-viability of a game like WoW makes it immensely popular.

I think this bears repeating because I think some other bloggers have always been fortunate enough to have a good guild or group to play with and in many ways, I think this twists their expectations.  The simple fact is that far more people are in bad guilds than good ones.  Good people, but not enough of them to DO much of anything. Or conversely, large groups, but run by people you don't like or connect with at a personal level.

That's a very important consideration for a developer because as I learned in Wrath, having a good quality group to play with dramatically increases the “fun factor” in these games.

In any event, shortly after returning back to WoW, I was recruited into a great guild that I can't say enough good things about.  It was by far the best group I’ve ever played with and I think that it contributed greatly to a much better experience than the one I had during Burning Crusade.

One of the reasons this guild worked so well for me is that I had a great relationship with the other Rogue.  If I'm being blunt, most Rogues are scrubs and/or greedy bastards.  However, the two of us were both great players and pretty unselfish.  It really made for a solid friendship and I was closer to him than any other member of the guild.

Wrath of the Lich King - Design
Wrath is not without it's issues. Leveling and questing was a far more improved experience.  If I'm being critical here, I would have liked to have seen more "phasing" and a smarter implementation of it in certain places.  It's a great mechanic to evolve a story.

I didn't PvP much in Wrath because honestly, the far superior PvP in Warhammer had by this point pretty much turned me off from WoW's sub-par PvP.  Wintergrasp was unspectacular and the new Battleground boring compared to the pure action to a scenario like Tor Anroc.

The real improvement for me was the Raiding.  Much more accessible and the 10-man versions made the possibility of PuGGing content your Guild wasn't doing that week (or you would miss) a realistic option.

I know people have been critical that Raiding was made "easy" in Wrath but I think that's not exactly true.  I think what made things easier (and better) is that you had twice the opportunity to do each Raid.  You could run it in 25-man AND in 10-man.

Even players who never did the 25-man content could master the 10-man content and then PuG a 25 and have roughly a good idea of what they needed to do.  10-mans are a training ground of sorts and THAT'S what made the content overall easier.

The net is that the end-game was simply just more enjoyable than in Burning Crusade.


Carson 63000 said...

One thing which I never understood about TBC was that, having decided to downsize raiding, they chose to go with 25-man raids rather than 20-man.

* 20-man would be exactly half the size of the old level 60 endgame
* 20-man would be exactly twice the size of the introductory level 70 raid.
* 20-man already had a history, in the form of Zul'Gurub and Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj.

25 just didn't make a lot of sense.

sid67 said...

Exactly. I could understand 15/30 or 10/20 but 10/25 has just never made any sense.

It's a problem that still exists within WoW but the difference today is that you can pick up 5 PuGs who have done it on 10-man and still get the content completed.

Stabs said...

It's hardly a great justification but I think they got the idea of 25 from EQ2. At the time EQ2 raids were built from blocks of 6 players - so 24 man raids.

It may also be the effect of designing in committees:
"No, thirty!"
"No, twenty!"
"Guys, how about 25 then?"