Warlords of Draenor: Retrospective, Looking Ahead

Warlords of Draenor was a decent expansion which will be remembered for having faults so egregious Blizzard reversed the course World of Warcraft had been plotting for over a decade. It definitively demonstrated that players lose interest if they do not have meaningful ways to progress and empower their characters outside of raids. 

For many, many years World of Warcraft's players have decried grinds. We've stated resoundingly that we hate gathering materials for our professions, grinding reputations, doing daily quests, completing attunements, how much time it takes to level, and more. Warlords of Draenor was the ultimate culmination of Blizzard's effort to accommodate us.

However, by addressing our complaints Blizzard created a game that couldn't hold our interest. They made leveling faster and easier than ever before, eliminated gathering and daily quests as necessary activities via garrisons, and made heroic dungeons effectively obsolete the moment you could walk into a raid. Pet battles, PVP, achievements, and all the new toys and mounts were insufficient replacements for activities that progressed our characters.

As a result, the huge surge of interest that drove subscription numbers higher than they'd been in years was lost, and then some. Blizzard took notice, and many of Legion's key features appear to be direct answers to the problem, recreating grinds and inconveniences that they'd finally eliminated.

Blizzard's answers will be imperfect, much as Warlords of Draenor's story and presentation thereof were imperfect answers to the flaws from Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. However, those answers will surely be improvements, and just as I was impressed by how far Blizzard has come from the utter inanity of Cataclysm's story, I am hopeful I'll be impressed by Legion.


Burning Crusade: Final Thoughts

As much as my rose-colored glasses want me to laud Burning Crusade as the best period in World of Warcraft's history, I don't think that statement is true.

A big part of why Burning Crusade has a special place in my memory is because so many of the experiences I had that expansion were new ones. I hit the level cap, ran dungeons that couldn't be beat by outleveling them, lead a guild, raided, made vides and so much more all for the first time. It's not surprising that a period of intense discovery would engender unfair nostalgia and acclaim.

But in reality Burning Crusade was still deeply flawed. The improvements it made over Vanilla were considerable, but it still bore a lot of baggage from what came before. There were classes and specs that were unequivocally superior while others were worthless. There were design issues with quest chains and bottlenecks. Itemization was still awkward and confusing. Burning Crusade was better than what came before, but it wasn't the best that WoW could be.

However, I think Burning Crusade is unique in that it is the only expansion that was arguably a universal improvement. There are a couple of contentious topics, such as raid sizes and badges, but even there Burning Crusade had fewer of those than the expansions that followed.

Overall I think Burning Crusade was the second best expansion, and I'll be discussing the first shortly.


Burning Crusade: Progression Retrospective

Burning Crusade didn't only attempt to improve questing, but dungeons and raiding as well. A big part of this was the new Heroic difficulty of dungeons. Rather than have an extremely small set of endgame dungeons, every Burning Crusade dungeon could now function as end game content!

A great idea on paper, in practice there were issues with the implementation. Not all Heroics were created equally in difficulty or loot distribution, which essentially halved the number that were practical to run. Some Heroics were harder to get access to than others as well. The result was that the planned progression of Normal->Heroic->Raid was a rocky path with a few stumbling blocks.

Nevertheless the progression path was still functional, and the act of progressing was itself a means by which player excitement was stoked. Each surmounted challenge was an accomplishment, and as players overcame each one they felt that budding thrill as they stepped nearer and nearer to being raid-ready.

This thrill continued as players progressed through each raiding tier. Though, again, the logistics of shifting from 10-mans to 25-mans was another unfortunate implementation issue, the thrill of finally being good enough to enter and acquire gear from Serpentshrine Cavern or The Eye was real and powerful.

Where I feel Blizzard has erred, perhaps irrevocably, is in demolishing this sense of preparation and accomplishment. This first started in Wrath of the Lich King, as the revamped badge system essentially made old raiding tiers obsolete as new tiers were released. The problem has expanded in Warlords of Draenor as running dungeons, even Heroic dungeons, has become strictly optional; within a day of reaching the maximum level I had sufficient gear to queue for raids in the Looking for Raid system. The feelings of anticipation and accomplishment for simply walking into a raid instance are gone.

Bringing them back into WoW isn't something that can be done easily, but as I play through Burning Crusade's content one last time I can't help but wish for those feelings to return. They needn't be reserved only for those raiders who challenge the new Mystic difficulty for raids.

Burning Crusade: Questing Restrospective

The other day I was enjoying the nostalgia trip of leveling an alt through Burning Crusade content, and as I did so many, many long forgotten memories came to the surface. While I could spend this entire post reminiscing about the first time I saw Outland's breathtaking sky, was obliterated by a Fel Reaver while running in terror, or flew free from the tyranny of flight masters, I'd rather analyze Burning Crusade from a game design perspective.

There are number of aspects of Burning Crusade's design which were significant improvements over Vanilla, one of which was quest design. Quests changed in a couple of ways.
  • Quests increased slightly in number while decreasing slightly in grind.
  • Quests were split between several hubs in a given zone, rather than tied to a single large hub with a smattering of random quest-givers elsewhere.
While not as obvious as improvements that would come with later expansions, these changes had an extremely noticeable impact at the time. Both dramatically improved the questing experience even if most players weren't analytical enough to explain why questing was better. Less grind is rarely unappreciated, and not having to trudge across the entire length of a zone to find or turn in quests over and over again is a dramatic quality of life improvement.

Burning Crusade questing still had flaws. Quests were designed with the assumption that a player would pick up all the quests at a hub, complete them, and return. Players failing to complete all the quests at once often ended up going back to the same areas of the zone over and over again as quest chains became desynced. Moreover, the area covered by hubs was still extremely elastic to the point where multiple hubs would have quests in the same areas, requiring players to create complicated roadmaps for optimal leveling. This was a mess that Wrath of the Lich King would clean up, but at the time was still a marvelous step up from what came before.

Sometimes you only need slight changes to make vast improvements. It's unfortunate that this lesson wasn't one Blizzard applied in other areas followed Burning Crusade.

Warlords of Draenor: Garrisons

One of the major reasons I started playing World of Warcraft again was a lot of positive buzz about Warlords of Draenor, and in particular Garrisons. I've enjoyed the Garrison, but it is in many ways flawed and I've been exploiting these flaws rather severely.

When I quit all those years ago the "minimum wage" of WoW was daily quests. Each day your average player could complete 25 of these, generally taking an hour or so, for a reasonable amount of gold. Savvy players could make far more gold by manipulating the Auction House, selling dungeon/raid runs, or crafting/farming rare items to sell, but daily quests were the primary source of gold income for the vast majority of players.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Garrison is that it replaces daily quests. Rather than require players to spend more so much time each day completing repetitive quests to secure their gold income, players can now send followers on missions that yield gold and other rewards. This takes mere minutes, and thus allows players to engage in the activities they actually enjoy.

This change is a fairly smart one, as much of WoW's original player base is aging, having kids, and losing hours of time they once spent player WoW to other tasks, goals, and needs. However, it has some unintended side effects.

With the time commitment for this income essentially non-existent, securing it on every character a player has is now fairly trivial. The time commitment, and repetitiveness, of daily quests made trying to complete them on alts prohibitive; few people had the time or patience to spend 10 hours a day on daily quests. Now that the same income can be achieved in less than a minute per character altoholics like myself are exploiting this quality of life improvement like crazy.

This only became worse when Blizzard recently introduced a follower trait which doubles gold rewards from missions they complete. Doubling one Garrison's gold income isn't a big deal, but doubling 11 Garrisons' gold income becomes silly quickly.

There are other aspects of Garrison design which obviously did not account for multiple characters. Each Garrison comes with a mine and an herb garden that fill with resources daily, but with just a couple of alts you get more resources than you can possibly ever use. Even more casual altoholics can become wholly self-sufficient, never needing to actually leave their Garrison at all save for dungeons and raids.

Garrisons are fun. I enjoy sending my followers out on missions and I enjoy the rewards I receive, but they were never designed with alts in mind. It's an oversight I expect Blizzard won't be able to correct until the next expansion, but in the meantime I'll enjoy these Halcyon days.

Still Alive

I'm back, with a very specific purpose in mind.

It's no coincidence that after I quit World of Warcraft updates to this blog slowed and eventually ceased, and it's no coincidence that a new post here appears in the months following the release of Warlords of Draenor. I am playing WoW again, and looking back on the game after almost four years away I've made observations I intend to share.

Initially I had thought to simply post them to various forums, but eventually I decided that the sheer amount of analysis I wished to do and thoughts I wanted to share precluded forums as an appropriate medium.

So I have returned.


Long Overdue

Despite the fact that Deus Ex: Human Revolution was released over six months ago I have yet to mention it here. My thoughts on the game are long overdue.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of those rare games that transcends its flaws and mistakes to become unforgettable. Even now the mere mention of its name draws out the memory of the distinctive music, the complexity of the central theme, and the depth of its characters. The game leaves a mark on you, and stays with you well after it is completed.

If I had to choose, I would call this the best game of 2011. Yes, that means it beats even Portal 2 in my opinion. While Portal 2 was a hilarious and whimsical return to a wonderful universe it did not leave the same deep mark. When I hear the Deus Ex theme I long to play the game again, even though it has been so short a time since I completed it.

I highly recommend the game to anyone and everyone. You may not agree in the end that it was as good as my high praise claims, but at worst you will play a very good game.



My phone fell apart and now I have an iPhone.

Apps are nice, but most of them seem to be repackaged information for people who can't be bothered to use the internet. The iPhone is a vehicle for spontaneity. That sounds cool but ultimately if you're slightly organized it means you don't really need the iPhone for anything beyond calling people.

At least in my case that's true. Someone whose job/life involves fairly constant communication/on the road work probably has more use for a portable internet.