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| A look back at how the WoW juggernaut began (10 comments )|
by: OldFriend (178) | Posted in cluster FiringSquad Editors Challenge Round 1 Prelim 1
Posted 76 months ago ( edited 76 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
Below is an impression article I wrote shortly after the initial World of Warcraft public stresstest. Funny how sixty levels can change one's opinion...
|» MEDIA (2)|
There was a time long ago in the annals of gaming when games were less about corporate profits and more about escapism. It was as much a profession of the dreamer and shaper as that of the buyer and seller; it was a quest to find greater meaning and purpose in the neverlands where our nine-to-fives held no sway. It was about epic legends recounted and the lives of heroes relived in gloriously bad graphics, but the dream was there. The heart was in it, so the mind believed, and gaming was good.
Of course all of that has changed with the corporate nature of game development today. No longer are the garage operations of some guy with a story in his heart the norm; no less than the likes of Sony and Universal Pictures have seen the profitability of gaming, and its popularity has skyrocketed as a result. It is, however, the nature of the beast that a corporation rips the heart out of an artistic endeavor, and the games with a sense of earnestness about themselves are far far too rare these days. Despite being owned by such a megacorp, Blizzard entertainment has long stood as a bastion of integritous gaming, and with good reason. Their latest effort and first foray into the grey landscape of MMORPGs, World of Warcraft, is hopefully the bearer of deliverance from this thus far unremarkable genre, and with that brightness in my eyes, I logged in to the Stress Test…
Character creation was a bit disappointing, providing few options compared to the customizability of a game like Neverwinter Nights. There were four races per side with each race getting some minor racial bonus. Also available were a handful of options for face type and hair type, and that was it. The available character classes were standard fare for RPGs, as was the whole process to that point. Still, create him I must, so he would have the unswerving, fiery courage that only a frail human body knows. And of course, he would be a soldier of the Alliance, because the light must always overcome. So having created my paladin with the flowing black hair, I proceeded to enter the world of Azeroth.
Being the stress test of a game so anticipated as this, it was no surprise to find that the population of players was such that no young wolf, no rabbit or cow, nor even a kobold miner could live but seconds. I wondered around the Abbey, but soon I couldn’t stop longing for the far-off mountains; the misty land across the stream, and so the explorer’s heart consumed me. As soon as I turned in my beginning quest, I left the newbie area as fast as possible. The jog from Northshire Abbey to Goldshire was short enough, but the scenery along the way was a hopeful thing to behold. In a genre of games trying to make fantasy a tangible reality with the most modern hypergraphics, WoW knew itself for what it was. Its cartoony graphics somehow strikes a fidelity with our childhood imaginations, borne of mediocre cartoons and unremarkable fantasy books, and it succeeds in a way that all the intense realism of other MMORPGs fail.
I jogged on, and before reaching Goldshire I decided to try my hand at combat. Disappointingly, this was a thoroughly conventional affair: right-click to attack, with a special ability or spell occasionally thrown in to spice things up. It was unremarkable enough that a friend found me as I was fighting, and we talked briefly while my fight wound down with no input from me.
After we reached Goldshire, it was time to test the quest system. Finding them was easy enough; anyone with a yellow exclamation point over their heads had a quest. Those with white ones would have a quest for you at a slightly higher level. After getting the quest, it is automatically entered into your questlog verbatim, including the reward you would get. Each quest was color coded from grey to red, grey being painfully easy and red being impossible to do by yourself at your current level. Sometimes there is a choice of reward, but you’ll almost always know what you were going to get. It was quite the opposite from the proverbial box of chocolates, and a little disappointing for that reason. The quest system was the ultimate in user friendliness but left nothing to chance or discovery, which a soul such as mine that beckons for the wide unknown would have very much liked. It also did not keep track of completed quests which would have been useful at several points. It did however allow quests to be shared between party members as long as members also met the prerequisites of the quest.
Very soon my questlog became overstuffed, and it was time to venture far beyond the idyllic country confines of Elwynn forest. I came to the human stronghold of Stormwind, white in its gleaming strength and pride. I journeyed to the troubled land of Westfall, autumn were its harvestlands and coastline. My adventure took me south to the land of Duskwood, and I knew fear in its eternal darkness and mist. I journeyed far and wide, and soon I realized that what the quest system lacks in sleuthy detective work, it made up for by directly asking you to travel.
Along the way my levels steadily grew, and along with it my stats, abilities and items. On the surface it seemed like yet more standard fare for such games, but there was something different. I was never once leveling for the sake of leveling; always there were quests to do in varying degrees of difficulty such that I found myself leveling so I could complete the next quest. In the twenty-five levels that I completed in my time, I never was forced to grind. My paladin struck always in the name of the light and was unwavering in his faith to his duty, unsullied by mindless death.
His adventures were that much more righteous in that he struck for the greater good, more often in the company of fellows than alone. Among the quests of WoW, there are a number of ‘elite’ quests. Essentially, they were quests that could not be done alone unless one was of considerably higher level than the creatures involved. Said creatures were more or less normal compared to their non-elite counterparts except that they had considerably increased health points. Elite quests are a great idea, but the increase in health points seemed like a poor jerry rigging method of increasing the difficulty. I think I would have preferred a few epic enemies in place of artificially stronger mindless crowds.
And then there was the PvP, such a joy it was. Each faction has friendly territories in which a member can feel relatively safe. There are high level guards that patrol roads and places of significance like towns and bridges, but even so there is the chance of an organized raid by the opposing faction on any territory. Here my paladin truly found his calling; here he struck for his faith and his king, and strike he did with fervor at the enemy. For the first time playing an MMORPG I felt like a part of the story, a soldier of the human empire fighting for what he believed was right. I didn’t feel like some dude playin’ a game on his computer; I was sucked in, and I reveled in it. The Horde invaders would suffer the might of my hammer, and damn the numbers. Lustily I waded into their ranks, and each swing of my hammer, the mighty Verigan’s Fist, landed a legendary blow.
But alas, their numbers were indeed too great, and I was felled. Fortunately the death system is very forgiving, and soon I was back in the fray. Upon dying, I could at any point be resurrected by another player. Also there was the option of releasing and returning as a ghost at the nearest graveyard. Although this meant at times running a long distance to retrieve one’s body, it was never more than a few minutes and as a result frustration from dying was kept to an acceptable minimum. Should one not be able to return to one’s fallen body, there was the option of resurrecting from the spirit of the graveyard, but this always cost experience points and was a last resort.
And so it was that on the last day of the Stress Test, myself and many others sacrificed gargantuan amounts of xp in the name of the empire, so we might fight back the onslaught of the Horde. It was a trying time for my paladin, yet heavenly for me because I believed in it. Blizzard has always been a company that has made the pinnacle of whatever genre they were attempting, at times even daring to be innovative. Though they do a few new things with WoW, they are minor at best. This game didn’t break new ground, it cultivated the old ground and grew from it the best crop it has ever known. What this game has done to perfection is take the old conventions of leveling, questing, PvP, and a few others, and subtly reordered their priorities such that the game doesn’t support the player, but rather that the player is support for the story of the game. This has made all the difference because in order for a world to be real, it must be larger than its inhabitants. WoW succeeds handily at that while still giving the player the feeling that he has a chance to make a difference. I carry an earnest hope that my few complaints will be addressed before retail, and I know I personally will be back for more when it does finally hit stores.
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