Thursday, October 16, 2008
WoW patch 3.0 thoughts
So I patched WoW yesterday to version 3.0.2, but didn't have much luck playing. Some servers suffered from severe lag, and lucky me was on one of the affected servers. I was trying to use the auction house and mail, but that either took forever, or ended in a "world server down" crash. This morning things looked better, and I had actually already sold a good amount of the low-level herbs which I had bought for 5 silver each and put on auction for 1 gold each. Herb prices exploded, and I've even seen a guy trying to sell a stack of herbs for over 500 gold, but I guess he didn't find a buyer.
One new feature from the patch notes struck me as funny: I don't know if it was just a regular improvement, or if somebody from the WoW team was making fun of WAR, but in WoW you can now shift-click on auction house mail to auto-loot it. One single click to open the mail, take the attachment, and delete the mail. You're missing out on the information who bought your item for how much, but in most cases you don't really care, and auto-loot is optional anyway. May I suggest a "auto-loot ALL mail" button next? In any case, already now the difference in quality between the WoW auction and mail system and the same system in WAR is striking. WAR has some good ideas, like the ability to sort items by price per item, or having a separate AH mail box, but the execution and user-friendliness of the WAR system is abysmal. The WoW system has undergone many patches and been continuously improved, and that shows.
That started a train of thought on whether games are always getting better with each patch and expansion. As long as you are just looking at functionality, I think they are. No developer intentionally patches something in to make his game worse. Of course some patch changes are done to improve game balance, which can include nerfs to this or that class, which tends to be not popular with the affected players. But even those nerfs are done for the greater good of better game balance. Somebody starting World of Warcraft today would find most game features in a better state than 4 years ago, when we veterans played it. Just one example, the latest patch moved all mounts, pets, and various tokens like Badges of Justice or Marks of Honor out of the inventory and into a special tab of the character screen. A previous patch added the keyring. Back in the days (you know, the time when we went to school and back through 3 meters of snow, uphill, both ways) all keys, mounts, pets, and tokens took up valuable inventory space. I probably deleted most of the pets and vanity items from various events, because I simply didn't have the room to store them. Now things are much better, and apparently you can even get deleted pets and keys back by talking to a stablemaster and blacksmith.
But even as the functionality of WoW improves with patches and expansions, the game experience doesn't necessarily. Wrath of the Lich King introduces both more high-level content and first hero class, which starts the game at level 55, not level 1. Thus any *real* new player in WoW, who starts with a real new level 1 character, will find the world around him very empty. He'll rarely meet other players outside the big cities, and he won't be able to find a group of his level for the various dungeons. He'll be able to see that WoW now has a LEEEEEEEROOOOOOOY achievement, but won't understand what that one is about. He'll never do a proper Molten Core raid, or even Karazhan. If he has a veteran friend he can level up with triple xp, and get boost runs through dungeons, or even see MC or Onyxia if some guild kills them for fun at level 80. But that will be just a pale image of what we experienced when we played through that content.
MMORPGs are multiplayer games, and much of their attraction comes from the interaction with other players. As the players moved on, a huge part of World of Warcraft just ceased to exist. What is left behind is just an empty stage, and faint memories of the plays that were enacted on that stage. To populate that part of the world again, we'd need a completely different type of expansion: Not 10 more levels added to the endgame, but a cataclysm striking the old world, and changing it. New classes, maybe even new races, and most of the quests and zones of old Azeroth being changed to breathe new life into them. I wonder if we'll ever get such an expansion.