WoW Musings; Or, a more organic experience…free range, no bugs.

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WoW Musings is a series wherein I discuss ideas about how to revamp my favorite MMO, World of Warcraft.

Let us return to the idea of gamer’s ennui.

WoW’s developers have tirelessly cranked out an exorbitant amount of content in a relatively short amount of time. Needless to say, that we are truly at a stage in the game where after the leveling experience is complete, there is no shortage of things to do in end game. Grinding out faction rep, farming, pet battles, raiding, dungeoning, pvp, crafting, the list goes on.

So what’s the problem?

It all seems rather stale. Especially wherein, I play other MMOs and there are a lot of fun things they’re doing to break away from the WoW-led pack. Granted, they don’t post the subscription numbers WoW does, but they bring to the table some very innovative elements I often find myself wishing WoW would do.

So in part one of this series, we introduced the idea of a reduced boss-loot structure and the replayability of end game content, specifically raids and dungeons. In part two, we described the playerbase to which any suggestions that can be made must cater.

And now, in this current entry, we begin to explore.

Revamp Idea the Second: Creating a truly organic experience

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Sounds simple and all, but the idea is rather complicated.

Warcraft excels at staying true to the vast fictitious universe in which it rests. The storylines are rich in depth and development both within the game and externally in graphic novels, regular novels, and periodic short stories. So much so, in fact, that WoW’s developers are often accused of leaving too much story content to the novels and not so much within the game. Personally, I think they’ve done a great job in reflecting any universe changes and major story happenings in the game. Admittedly, I wish more could be done.

Which is why I have been toying with a few ideas. Once again, I feel it necessary to explain a few things in a typical fast-talking disclaimery kind of way: First, I’m not an expert in game design…just a player who’s played a few in my life and have a feel for what I have liked over the years; second, that there are technological limitations with WoW’s game engine so some ideas, though great on paper, aren’t necessarily practical in application; and lastly, it’s just a blog where ideas are meant to be shared and where, for the time being, we’ll ignore technological limitations.

One of the great things WoW released in the Cataclysm expansion was a totally revamped old world experience. Leveling 1-60 was completely updated from the first days of WoW. Old world zones were made to reflect changes in the story, to get everyone at most – though, not all – levels to the feel ominous presence of the Destroyer. This was probably one of Cataclysm’s greatest successes, though it remained short lived. You see, it’s a bit short-sighted in that it only set up the leveling experience for JUST Cataclysm, but left little room for improvements and updates in later expansions.

Now, am I suggesting an entirely new experience be introduced with each expansion? Not necessarily. However, if that’s where the developers and designers wish to go and spend their time, so be it. The point is, consistency in content release has been an issue with WoW almost every expansion. Because the problem now is that new players coming into the game are now leveling in a Cataclysm world, where everyone talks about how the lands have changed and now everyone lives in fear of something that’s been fish food in the maelstrom for quite some time. Which, would be fine, if they allowed two things…the lands to change after they have experienced the content (more than just the phasing that happens now), and secondly, offered a newer way to experience older content that doesn’t seem so out of place (because guess what happened in Cataclysm when a player hit 60 and went into Outlands for Burning Crusade content and then ventured to Northrend at 70 for Wrath of the Lich King Content?).

Different MMOs have dealt with story progression in different ways, especially in terms of leveling. My FAVORITE game so far that has nailed down storytelling in a WoW-like environment is Star Wars The Old Republic. Lets look at a few of SWTOR’s leveling experience highlights that I feel could translate well into World of Warcraft:

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  1. Each world in the leveling experience has two story lines. One involves the overall arch of the game and one that was strictly related to the class you play. In essence half the game was shared by all, while the other half tells a different story ten times over. Once upon a time, Blizzard had class quests (and for a brief moment in Mists of Pandaria, brought them back, at least as far as warlocks are concerned). Their demise over the years has saddened me because it was one of the areas of low level gameplay where I thought WoW was a truly engaging experience unique for each person.
  2. While leveling, anything having to do with EITHER story line is cordoned off in a section of the map and instanced. So while you can’t go back and redo said areas, you could if you were grouped with someone who hadn’t experienced the story yet (a problem in WoW right now with its phasing technology). By allowing the missions and story to progress in an instanced area, once completed, any world changes as a result would still be an individual experience based on a player’s progression and it wouldn’t affect the social aspect of the game by hindering a player’s ability to help others. Blizzard, I’m sorry, you know I LOVE you, but phasing *Chi Chi Rodriguez voice* sucks. It. Sucks.
  3. The overall story’s outcome is affected by EACH planet’s story progression, and not just some overlying cloud that exists over the whole of the universe. By piecing it off, it allows previously completed worlds to be reused for a variety of world events that would not affect those currently leveling in those areas. And newer worlds released for extended cap leveling will take the story of the older ones into account.
  4. Missions started and completed though cutscenes and brilliant voiceacting are far superior to reading quest text boxes. They just are. Especially when a player is given CHOICES in how the dialogue should progress AND the outcome is affected by those choices.

Now I’m not saying WoW should totally rip off SWTOR’s leveling experience I totally am. But I’d like to think that even WoW’s architects are feeling the pressure of shoving content into a seriously dated engine that’s buckling at the bolts like Deathwing’s plate armor.

The next thing I’d like to see is a WORLD. This is WORLD of Warcraft, is it not? You have people wandering about the world doing this and that, killing them and those, and collecting mystical whatsithoogits all to progress the SERIOUSLY tired Side A versus Side B schtick that’s been going on for years.

What I’d like to see is a game with MULTIPLE factions. Not just races, but actual factions where a player can claim allegiance (more than just grinding out reputation just to buy an overpriced mount or sport a piece of cloth over their gear). I hate to say it, but I think there needs to be MORE than just Horde versus Alliance. And what a more perfect time than when one faction is literally imploding itself. Yes, things like BGs would likely have to change; but not really if you think about it because how often does one venture into BGs for the story?

Try to imagine…

…a world where players can choose the races they wish to align themselves with. And when faced with helping someone they know from a warring faction, they can engage in a temporary alliance that allows them to be escorted into hostile areas so as long as they are with their counterpart for a certain period of time. While they won’t be able to partake in auction houses, vendoring and other things in an enemy city, they can at least venture in without consequence. But what about players who will grief said faction and betray them by bringing in enemies? What of it? Some people are traitors. I say bring them on…we’re going for a more organic experience, remember?

…a world where players can through time-drudging quests and repeated tasks, switch alliances (because really, people are fickle and bound to do that, or, they simply find that another faction shares their ideals more than their current one). If one wanted to be an Orc that is part of the New Alliance, so be it.

…a world where the barriers of simple communication are broken down and enemies can talk to each other and be understood. The whole non-communication between the Horde and Alliance made sense back in the day, but it’s a completely obsolete mechanic at this point that has often tarnished what would have been a truly engaging experience (mostly for those who play Pandarens who, at level 10, suddenly become incapable of speaking to each other should they choose different factions…I mean, REALLY? Makes no sense).

So what would all this accomplish? Well, if something like this could be pulled off, it would push the game designers to really think outside the box in terms of developing Warcraft’s story to accommodate different alliances. Blizzard has the most creative and talented designers, and I’m sure they’re itching to flex their muscles in heavier weight brackets. So why not let them do it?

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I can understand that a lot of people love their characters. A lot of them have grown to despise the other faction and would NEVER align themselves with any member of said faction.

But would you really hinder game development because of such artificial devotions?

In a game that’s DYING for a truly innovative re-imagining, would you really be against a gaming experience that evolves with you and your decisions? I certainly wouldn’t.

I mean, it’s not like I’m proposing the addition of mentally challenged Druids:

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