I feel a great sympathy for the City of Heroes players who have recently lost their favourite MMO to the grim abyss of cancellation. There is something incredibly final about an online game being pulled as there is so very rarely any way of clawing that experience back. Instead, all that remains is an inert double-figure-gigabyte folder sat on your hard drive and mere memories of your polygon-formed world.[break]
My favourite MMO was killed off years ago and I didn’t even notice. It didn’t hit headlines, it didn’t bow out with a fanfare and it probably happened whilst I was playing it. What I’m trying to say is I miss World of Warcraft.
I will endeavour to keep this as far away from “back in my day” territory as I can.
A vast world, sometimes teeming and frantic, other times quiet and mysterious.
Warcraft has always been the poster child for grinding to level and subsequently levelling to grind. The realisation that you’re gearing up to be able to do different instances so that you can get better gear so that you can do different instances has an oddly sobering and almost despairing feel to it the first time you arrive there, but in its earlier forms, the game had a somewhat rewarding structure. It was more than just kit and quests. Instead, there was an enormous world that felt rewarding to explore in itself, long before achievements came along and encouraged people to bomb through it all on the back of a motorbike.
When changes started to happen, I was probably one of those championing the streamlining, welcoming more efficient sets of quests and faster levelling, delighted at more accessible raids and eternally grateful that I could see more of the world whilst not having to give up my day job to do so. At a certain point, these were probably a good thing, but during the earlier days of Cataclysm as I rode across the Northern Barrens to the Crossroads with a low level Tauren Paladin sat on the back of a Kodo, lazily shooting an onslaught of pig-men with a shotgun, it occurred to me that this journey used to be somewhat of a rite of passage. The Crossroads was the first major hub outside of the starting areas that felt part of a larger world and the achievement and character progression milestone of getting to it had been condensed down to a tedious roller-coaster. A tedious roller-coaster with a gun, but still an experience with far less weight and gravitas behind it.
Shortly after this, I realised I was being flung through a flooded Thousand Needles on a whistle stop tour of all the places I had previously spend days exploring and powered through the world in general in no time at all. It was as if Blizzard had seen people power levelling and assumed that’s what everyone wanted. I remember carefully exploring every single new area on my first play through and absorbing every single quest and encounter, timidly pushing into new areas to see if I could handle them yet before being chased out by crocodiles or the occasional unexpected dragon. I even remember not seeing quest-denoting exclamation marks pop up on the mini-map and having to explore towns themselves for quests.
Faster levelling. Noise and gimmicks. Powering through the broken world on a motor-tricycle. Ok fine, I did like the tricycle.
I’ll sometimes fly off into an introspective rant about how the game isn’t as it was, but something always brings me back to reality on that one. Yes, it’s different, but if the changes hadn’t been made it’s unlikely they would still be retaining a subscriber base of 10 million and I might really be talking about the actual decline of the game as opposed to just being patched beyond recognition.
Blizzard has managed to keep Warcraft fresh and engaging for a huge group of people whilst also opening it up to a much wider player base than could have reasonably been expected. Cataclysm, although drastic, was a stroke of genius with the developers clearly realising the best way to keep the old world interesting was indeed to blow it up and pretty much start again.
Warcraft isn’t dead or even dying by any conventional wisdom, but it is for me. Being propelled through the old world on the back of whatever garish machine the last quest giver has given me past the corpses of old familiar NPCs and through the ruins of towns that sometimes almost felt like home when I was feeling particularly pathetic/drunk only drove the point home.
I’m curious about monks and pandas, but probably not enough to head back and make it 10 million and one subscribers. What I loved was the world when it was new to me, when it was a vast open space to be conquered. I can’t go back to that – I can only try and find that feeling somewhere else.
Luckily there are plenty of new worlds out there. I end up casting my eyes over the colossal deck of characters and items to buy in the shop whilst trying to work out why a foul-mouthed stranger has been calling me a “feeder”, but turn away from that venture as my ship has finished filling its cargo hold with asteroid-ore. The autopilot is locked for the nearest starbase and gazing around, this place feels big, unknown, new, unconquered and just a little hostile, so maybe I’m on to a winner here. Or maybe in those lanes full of creeps.
Docking request successful.
Sometimes I just like not knowing what I’m doing. I suppose the death of Warcraft for me was the moment I understood it.