Why I Won’t Be Playing Pandaria (Yet)

Pandas…

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but trust me: MMORPG expansion release dates are just about the worst day you can get into a new game or restart an old one.

“What? Aren’t you the guy that tells everyone how good World of WarCraft is, and the moment new content comes out you say you’re not even going to play it? What is WRONG with you? Do you hate yourself”

Hear me out, fellow WoW advocates! I’ve got good reasons.

First of all, I am going to be playing WoW, for sure, come release date. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to play the new stuff, but there’s a problem with the initial release.

Namely, there’s a phenomenon I like to call the “new content rush”. Whenever an MMO goes a long time without any new additions, current and former subscribers foam at the mouth, act crazy, and generally phase out of playing the game at a regular rate. They act as if a development studio can keep up this level of quality and the amount of content at the same time, and leave due to burnout. This isn’t avoidable; it’s the natural development cycle of an MMO, and subscriber loss always occurs at these lulls. WoW, especially, has seen huge drops due to content exhaustion, with plenty of people finishing every single bit of content so fast that Blizzard can’t keep the pace. Cataclysm was underwhelming in terms of sales and Blizzard loss more of their subscriber base from the all-time high of 11.4 million. There’s about 9 million hardcore players still subscribed, but suffice to say many have left for temporary greener pastures (Guild Wars 2, probably, or even that free copy of Diablo III they have let gather dust) to satiate their loot lust.

This is so revolutionary, don’t you think? GW2 Review – Infinity/5

Then, all these people decide that, come new content day (i.e., today!), they’ll all dogpile onto Blizzard’s servers and rush through all of the stuff as quickly as possible. Hence, every single starting area, new area, and just about everywhere new swarms with players eager to rush through Blizzard’s carefully developed content at record pace so the gear grind can begin anew.

This looks like a real problem with this new expansion for a few reasons. First, one new race means ONE starting area. We can contrast this with Burning Crusade, which had two race introductions and two whole areas for Blood Elves and Draenei, as well as Cataclysm’s two new races: Goblin and Worgen. Each had their own unique story that led them to the events of the game’s world, and since they were clearly divided between the factions, all was well. Of course, it’s busy, but playable, provided you have patience. Having played the Pandaren starting area on the beta, it’s going to be CROWDED, and those enemies better respawn FAST or the bottleneck will commence. Even Wrath didn’t have this problem, since most of the Death Knight starter content was instanced; that isn’t the case here.

Furthermore, The Jade Forest will be packed with Horde and Alliance alike, each eager to quest and/or grief other players in the new questing zone. This “one new high level area” idea has been done before in Burning Crusade. Yes, Hellfire Peninsula was HUGE, but not huge enough.

It looks big, but it definitely wasn’t large enough.

Quests weren’t as easy as they are now, sure, but waiting for new enemies and pickups to spawn due to overpopulation was a frequent occurence. Having opposite factions groups attack you by your lonesome doesn’t exactly spell fun to me. Even Blizzard realized this folly; Wrath had two starting areas, as did Cataclysm. Now Blizzard thinks their phasing technology will somehow fix the problem, but I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

So, you have a host of people all trying for the same objective (get to level cap) while another wants to PvP everyone to death in the starting zone. Frustration ensues. For me, it’s simply not fun to play on release day. I don’t care about meaningless WORLD FIRSTS, nor is there any reason to rush my exploration of Pandaria; I’d rather wait for the initial bomb to drop and then have leisure time. Of course, I could also just play an area which no one will be in (like my Draenei warrior, Triptych) and do some stuff. There’s other things to do, just not the new content.

I have a theory about why this happens: evidently, the loot grind itself is the most interesting part of the game for most. I’m obviously not in that group (If Why WarCraft Works didn’t make that obvious). So what options are left for me?

Well, I could decide to just persevere and play the game in ways that don’t involved overstuffed quest areas; instances, battlegrounds, and scenarios appear as Blizzard’s attempt to avoid such problems. Still, I feel like one has to really explore the new continent to get an appreciation of why we’re fighting monkeys, or what the Sha really are (evil spirits feeding on negative emotion, from what I’ve read). That doesn’t happen in these dungeons and scenarios; I lack context. Yes, I do play the game without understanding why I am fighting, but going back to that content really enhances the overall dynamic. I can always go back later; I’m in no rush.

That’s quite a big difference from the MMO market at large, wouldn’t you say? I want to savor the experience, not devour it wholly at once. MMOs and patience go well together – must have something with doing the same action over and over again and expecting loot to drop (or is that the definition of insanity? Hard to tell!). If you treat it like you MUST burn through the entire game in one month, you’re doing it wrong. At least I think you’re doing it wrong. Patience helps (it doesn’t hurt that it’s a spiritual gift, after all).

I imagine the MMORPG community doesn’t agree, but it’s their loss.

That’s why I found Job so interesting. It’s a book about patience, sure, but a particular kind – just waiting to be heard by someone who doesn’t even exist in the same reality. Job’s friends are bad at comforting him simply because they’re accusers more than comforters. Their particular perception of God (rewards good, punishes evil) doesn’t line up with the reality (God does what He wants, and accept it; you don’t have to like it). Job believes, with all his heart, that he’ll be acquitted and proven right, yet God denies a straight answer. Rather, Job learns that he is in the hands of God, and that nothing further is required.

Job 26 – 2 “As God lives, who has taken away my right,
And the Almighty, who has embittered my soul,
For as long as life is in me,
And the breath of God is in my nostrils,
My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,
Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
“Far be it from me that I should declare you right;
Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
“I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.
My heart does not reproach any of my days.

So why is Job famous for being “patient”? For waiting a long time, I guess? Or for really wanting to get his way right now, even though He knows that God could just as easily dismiss the request? So Job perseveres, and then gets no answer to His question. When He gets the “answer”, more like showing Job that the question isn’t even applicable, he gives up and God reward him for…questioning? Effort? These are all interesting reasons, I suppose. But I don’t think it hits the heart of it. It’s by Job’s own admission that he is wrong just by default when arguing with God that, apparently, reveals his true character.

It’s not Job’s patience, but what he learns as a result of his perseverance that makes Job a man of God. That’s a big difference; if we merely attribute it to Job’s own personal attributes, then this is a human attribution, rather than a Christian perspective. Anybody can be patient, even for the wrong reasons. But dealing with God? That’s a wholly other situation.

In World of WarCraft, many skip the elements of the game for this reason: the focus is on themselves, on their own stuff and how much virtual stuff they can accumulate before one person or the other. The social element becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The beautiful, spark of divine creation aesthetics of Pandaria’s lush landscapes reduce to picking up arbitrary quest items. So it is that great fun gets reduced to a matter of “me, me, me”, just by the default (and broken) functioning of human nature.

That’s unfortunate, I think. And there’s much to be learned in Pandaria. But it takes a mind receptive to learning that makes it memorable. It is what you put into it. And if you just want loot, you’re missing out on a lot.

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.