Warlords of Draenor, and Getting What You Want

warlords-of-draenor-1280x1024-1024x819

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James 3

A game designer knows more than he lets on. He knows how to keep the systems in check, to implement the right pacing, to set up the right risk/reward structure, and ultimately to provide lasting, satisfactory content. The fans, for their part, keep the developer alive, but they should not dictate how he makes the game. Otherwise, you end up in a death spiral of trying to please everyone, and in the process pleasing no one. Remember Israel trying to be like the other nations and asking for a king to reign over them in Samuel 12? That worked out super swell, didn’t it?

Sometimes, you need a guiding hand. The Bible tells us we cannot trust out own hearts and our own desires, corrupt as they often are. We can trust God’s motives and God’s desires for us, however. How often do crowd collaborated projects often crumble under the strain of too many opinions on the core tenets of the whole, while something with a dictatorial grip often retains a measure of focus? To paraphrase the Rolling Stones song, you don’t always get what you want, but you certainly get what you need.

So it is that we arrive at the World of WarCraft’s new expansion announcement. Warlords of Draenor, a.k.a The Burning Crusade 2.0, comes down to Blizzard’s continual attempt to take your money. Or so says the more cynical part of myself from what’s been announced so far. Admittedly, I said I would not play Pandaria right away, and that turned into a boldfaced lie almost immediately. As with all the previous ones, I will purchase it on day one, no question. The things that concern me, though, derive from a combination of the content announced and the circumstances surrounding said content’s release.

That doesn’t mean several positives do not emerge right out of the gate. The new raid system, as far as it goes, makes sense to me. Now Normal Mode has variable sizes, and Heroic or Mythic set the player size at a specific number. Since Heroic limits you to 10 or 25, and Mythic to 20 only, this will allow them to create awesome fights that do not need to function on the constraints of Normal or Raid Finder. Hopefully! Cheers to Blizzard on these changes, but time will tell whether these will prove successful changes.

Getting rid of the statistical management game called World of WarCraft, rather than the exciting RPG, also works well. Who liked getting hit, parry, dodge, or expertise on gear? Although necessary, these feel relatively exciting as stats because they’re entirely passive. The new system removes them entirely, thank God. Reforging also gets the boot; for those not in the know, reforging will let you redistribute 40% of a secondary stat on a piece of gear into another one not already on it. Sounding like fun? No, it’s not fun to juggle stats in an action game. Thank God for this as well! Making stats change according to your current specialization also feels like a lifesaver – no more holding billions of item variants for three specs. This will mean making items more unique, and more desirable as a result when they don’t need to worry about proper statistical distribution rather than, you know, fun. In addition, it’ll be nice to free up some bag space with newer inventory systems (although the lack of a better Transmogrification feature still drives me up the wall – my bags are full, Blizzard, let me keep the appearance and destroy/sell the items).

First of all, Blizzard finally gives players what they long desired: player housing! Well, I didn’t particularly care, given that this is a game and I like to kill things and get loot, but apparently people want digital houses for some reason? So we’re getting that, but expanded in the form of “garrisons”. Garrisons sounds incredibly similar to Breath of Fire’s TownShip concept, where you recruit people from around the world you journey to live in your town, set up shop, and craft stuff for you. There’s limited slots and you only obtain a few of the many, but that’s part of the fun decision-making process. In Blizzard’s version, you can send your “followers” on a variety of missions to gain experience, do quests, fight in dungeons, and all that good stuff. Obviously, this won’t replace the core elements of the mechanics, but it will augment your character and his/her base in subtle ways. Apparently gear is involved, so I will be doing this.

On the one hand, it’s a fascinating idea in an MMORPG to become the commander of your own tiny guerrilla force; honestly, you’d expect World of WarCraft to show its roots as an RTS game more prominently, but at least it’s finally coming back. On yet another hand (for those counting, that’s three), Blizzard keeps shoving these ancillary features into the game because, apparently, it’s too hard to make actual content good enough for player’s standards. It’s even worse when you imagine resources went to Pet Battles, or farming, or making player houses, or other aesthetic elements that could go to make another five man dungeon.

Cue my complaining about five man dungeons. I love five mans! They exist to teach players how to work in a high-risk environment within a group, learning the basics of their default role (tank, DPS, healer) while actually needing to do things! Normal dungeons provide room for error so you can learn, while heroics (at the right gear level) force you to keep mistakes at a minimum if you hope to survive. Blizzard introduced Challenge Mode to this dynamic, timed runs that adds mobs, reduce your gear level to a set number using some magical algorithmic wizardry, and put you under the constant strain of missing the Gold mark. Heck, this stuff all sounds awesome, and it is.

Unfortunately, Pandaria’s roster of leveling and heroic dungeons felt quite limited in comparison to Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. Like Cataclysm before it, only four dungeons existed in the LONG leveling curve (five might not sound much, but they ratchet up the experience requirement to compensate), and that’s simply not enough to stave the boredom (especially when they all become available within a level or two). Even when you reach max level, there’s only seven total. Contrast this to the 10+ in both the other aforementioned expansions, PLUS their heroic variants. Cataclysm and Pandaria both recycled dungeons by updating old favorites, but it’s still a bit of a repeat.

In that sense, Warlords of Draenor does THE EXACT SAME THING. From what they announced, that’s six dungeons total, and one recycled one (Upper Blackrock Spire, or UBRS) – not exactly a stellar lineup. They even promised they’d introduce more mid-expansion, but somehow I doubt this will occur; they often make promises, but do not deliver as other issues display themselves in a few months. I see that plan fell by the wayside to introduce 16 new raid bosses – not a bad compromise, yet I feel they focus on other things instead. Players don’t want more five mans, unfortunately. It certainly explains why everyone in Raid Finder plays so poorly at the last tier of content! They’ve got no great learning tools at all (Proving Grounds excepted, although good luck finding this “tutorial” unless you’re already familiar with the game!).

Namely, new character models, animations, and sound effects. If you’ve been playing for nine years, they’d get old for you too. Honestly, I barely notice the din of combat over the stress of trying to live as a tank or outputting maximum damage as a DPS. The armor, increasingly more detailed, covers my Tauren face from 2004 rather nicely, and I honestly don’t see my warrior removing his awesome helmets anytime soon. The dedicated effort on improving character models could go towards other things, of course, but the players (who are not me) want this. So, we’re getting it.

Probably the worst offender is the Level 90 Character Boost. Tired of playing video games? Pop Warlords of Draenor into your PC and automatically experience new content with a fresh character of which you learned nothing! After Raid Finder’s terrible flaws, I am totally looking forward to leveling with other people who have no idea how to play the game! If anything, it’s the dumbing-down of WarCraft. I’m sorry if you do not have the time to level quickly, but that’s a fundamental part of the game’s design. I was able to level six different characters to the cap in a few days, so it can’t be that hard.

I totally understand why they want to do this, though: the game’s old. World of WarCraft seems to hemorrhage subscribers, slowly but surely, as the years go on. As of the time of this writing, we’re four million down from the 2009 high of 11.4 million subscribers. These numbers show a growing fatigue with the game’s design. All the wonderful Draenor sights and new character models in the world won’t change that. If the core game isn’t up to snuff, no one will care about garrisons, I assure you. Friendships and guild memberships will only sustain things so long.

In that spirit, I say to Blizzard: do you know what the customer wants? Of course you do! But kowtowing to their demands will not allow World of WarCraft to succeed in the long term. Many of the things you will introduce in Warlords of Draenor point to long-term success, but only if you keep your promises to introduce actual content to the main game, and not just all these side thrills. The raiding model looks a step in the right direction, surely. You hit it out of the park with Pandaria in terms of raid bosses and content, if not in subscriber numbers. You provoked a different kind of fatigue through daily quests, which allowed you to tell a different story but in a way that provoked obligation rather than entertainment.

Blizzard, you learned your lessons and it looks like your crazy time travel plot and Burning Crusade nostalgia may launch World of WarCraft, your cash cow, into exciting territory. I just hope I’m not playing a violent version of Farmville a few years down the line (or maybe even Candy Crush Saga). Players don’t know what they want,and giving them that may not constitute the best of ideas. Follow your instincts, and give us some great stuff, and don’t listen to us. I honestly don’t know what I want out of a game, but I can see what the designers want, and that’s enough for me.

I am hopeful. So it is in games, so it is in real life.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.