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WoW (and clones): I still don’t like them.

December 17, 2013

Let me preface this post by saying that I feel it’s hollow and asinine to use the phrases “I hate WoW” or “I never played WoW” in order to gain some kind of gaming hipster nerd cred, or for non-gamers to further distance themselves from the Red State stereotype of gamers.

Anyway – I booted up WoW again, just to write down some old key configurations in an attempt to make my keybindings uniform between games  (I hate memorizing a new set of keys). I was surprised how much I disliked playing WoW again.

I might as well enumerate it, based on how obnoxious I find these quirks.

1. “Tagging” mobs is my biggest problem with the game. It encourages players to compete in an unfriendly way in an environment that should otherwise be cooperative. I’ve seen this behavior carry over into Guild Wars 2, where about 50% of the players will avoid playing in proximity to another character for fear of having to “compete” for the mission resource. I assume that the players in GW2 that do this are new to the game, ignorant of the lack of “tagging”, or doing it out of habit. Hell, I too occasionally find myself instinctively working away from other players due to this force of habit developed by playing WoW over the years. Jumping back into WoW, where “tagging” is still part of the basic model, I found the interaction with other players to as antagonistic and competitive. As soon as you see another player in your “questing area”, it is /on/, as both players fiercely compete for quest objectives. This generates an entirely antisocial atmosphere that I loathe.

2. Players aren’t encouraged to work together in the open world. This goes hand in hand with the Tagging dilemma.

I want to give a bit more background to this problem I have with the game. The fact of the matter is: the demographic of MMO players has changed. World of Warcraft has been around for eight years now. The people that played the game have undoubtedly changed, and the game model has changed to reflect that.

The teens that plodded through Zul’Gurub at 2 AM are now in graduate school, or working a full time job to feed their three kids. They go boating on holidays, instead of maximizing their WoW holiday XP bonus. They work overtime to pay their bills, rather than to finish a hard-mode raid. They take orders from their department chief, rather than their Raid Leader. They are older. Their tastes are more mature. Their free time is much more finite, yet infinitely more valuable.

The old-school, hard-core segment of gamers has become niche, at best, in terms of the cash flow for MMO developers and game developers on the whole. WoW and other MMOs have become more “casual”, because their audience only has time (or patience) for a more casual experience. Yet the fundamental design of WoW (and clones) remains the same: inherently competitive on the most basic level – due to “tagging”, and due to the lack of ingenuity or creativity in designing a core gameplay model that encourages cooperation or positive interaction of players.

Non-WoW-clones have developed models that encourage players to group up and help each other out.

3. Character position doesn’t matter. Guild Wars 2, and Wild Star both feature a combat system where the player’s position allows them to avoid damage outright, by either moving out of the path of danger (GW2 & WS) or using a dodge ability (GW2). This makes combat much more engaging – you have to pay attention to queues and warnings. Granted, WoW does feature a “don’t stand in the flames” style of BOSS combat, but general trash (which constitutes 99.999% of the game) is a matter of the player simply hitting the same sequence of buttons over and over. It’s a very cold, numb experience in comparison to actually needing to move around in combat and dodge heavy attacks – it makes GW2 & WS feel much more like an arcade game or action RPG game.

4. Ancient user interface (UI). Let’s face it, Blizzad has been exceptionally slow to upgrade WoW’s interface. The worst of it is the clunky, unwieldy quest/map interface – it’s just god awful. Granted, WoW DOES allow UI mods – for which I applaud Bliz, however it’s a bandaid on a gaping wound, a bandaid that is time consuming to rip off and reapply with _every_._single_._fucking_._patch_. And who knows if your favorite mods will be updated? Who knows if the mod’s author won’t just up and quit playing the game? I got tired of spending an hour updating my mods and fiddling with them after every single patch. The UI in GW2 just /works/. I do wish, however, that Bliz and ANet would add to WoW and GW2 something similar to the Carbonite Mod for WoW. Carbonite is the closest thing to an in-game GIS that you’ll ever see in a game. Other than perhaps the Planetside 2 interactive map, the Carbonite Mod is the best game map I’ve ever seen.

5. A gazillion-and-one character abilities. While a few people believe this is something that makes WoW (and its clones) better than the competition, I feel that it seriously inhibits the flow of gameplay, it makes the game much more tedious to learn, and much more difficult for developers to balance. I ran across this link that recommends how to set your keys for a WoW Warlock… it reminded me of how many damn abilities players needed to have on call for immediate use. It’s just asinine, especially since most of the abilities have the exact same purpose – hit something, or hit it harder. Heal someone, or heal them more.

Almost ALL abilities can be relegated to either dealing damage, mitigating damage, or to controlling an enemy – or some combination of those three. Basically the players are just pushing buttons to move enemy health bars down and to keep their health bars up – I don’t think every class needs 100 different ways to accomplish that. Hell, look at  a few of the Feral Druid attack abilities, they are all synonyms: Mangle, Maim, Maul… it’s just asinine.

I feel that it’s unfortunate for the epic adventure of fighting an giant dragon to be reduced to a metagame of cooldown and resource management. It really detracts from the experience, especially since most of the abilities are just a different way to do damage or mitigate damage – pushing bars up and down.

6. The lack of difficulty scaling. In GW2 the difficulty of the game remains fairly constant, no matter what area of the game you are in. This allows you to always see some semblance of challenge, and also makes grouping up with friends that are much higher or lower in level fun. WoW-and-clones feature a fixed-level system, where the player’s level does not vary based on what content he is facing. This makes it impossible for friends of different levels to play content together – at least without one player just clearing a path – which is boring for both players.


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