Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Not a Freezing Jihad

In March 2007, long before Wrath of the Lich King was even announced, I wrote a parody of the announcement, calling the new expansion "The Freezing Jihad". It was basically a comment on how little The Burning Crusade really added to World of Warcraft, and how easy it would be for Blizzard to make lots of "more of the same" expansions. When WotLK was announced, the feature list looked surprisingly similar to my Freezing Jihad parody: Level cap raised to 80, new icy continent, one new class, one new tradeskill, one new battleground. But after actually playing Wrath of the Lich King for 2 weeks now, I am happy to say that WotLK is not a Freezing Jihad. I'm not saying it is perfect, but it is a huge step up from Burning Crusade, and not just a simple extension of the same principles.

The biggest improvement I've seen up to now, compared to Burning Crusade, is the quality of the quests, especially of quest lines. I just read Keen's report on resubscribing to WoW: Keen hadn't played TBC, now made a Death Knight, and immediately noticed the drop in quality when leaving the (WotLK) Death Knight starting zone to enter the (TBC) Hellfire Peninsula. Don't despair, Keen! Experience points needed to level to level 70 have been halved, and once you leave Outlands and enter Northrend you'll notice the jump back up in quest quality level. Not only are quests in Wrath of the Lich King more varied than in Burning Crusade or the original World of Warcraft, they are also better integrated into great quest chains. There is a lot less of random strangers asking you to kill 10 foozles, and a lot more of quests that have a close connection to the lore. And quest chains are now closer together in level, so no longer will you have your quest journal filled up with half-finished quest lines for which you need some more levels to be able to do the end. Plus there are scenes with important lore NPCs at the end of several quest chains. I already met the Lich King three times, just from doing the quests in Howling Fjord, Grizzly Hills, and Zul'Darak.

In Wrath of the Lich King you even gain the power to change the world. That is hard to believe, and of course there is a trick behind it: Phasing. You and the player standing next to you will not necessarily see the same thing before them. For example in Conquest Hold in Grizzly Hills there is a series of quests which ultimately lead to a "regime change" in that place. And depending on whether you did that quest series or not, you will see a different chieftain in the palace. So at least *for you*, the world changes when you take part in a story. Great stuff, and very convincingly done. Different players just might see different phases of the same place.

Wrath of the Lich King also offers a lot more replayability than the Burning Crusade. At least to level 75 you can get by 2 completely different ways, via Howling Fjord and Grizzly Hills, or via Borean Tundra and Dragonblight. I hope I can get from level 75, where I am right now, to 80 in 2 completely different ways too (e.g. Zul'Darak and Storm Peaks vs. Sholazar Basin and Icecrown), but I'm not completely sure of that yet. In any case leveling is relatively fast: I ran CensusPlus and found that there are already more level 80 players than players at any other given level. That still means the majority of players is distributed between 70 and 79, but I guess even I will be 80 before Christmas.

One huge change, already implemented in patch 3.0.2., but more part of WotLK than TBC, is the power level of characters. Everybody is stronger now. I had originally toyed with the idea to retire my Warrior, due to being outdated by the introduction of Death Knights, and suffering from the eternal problem of how to level up with a talent build that is more group-oriented than solo-oriented. But that Warrior in full tank spec and full tank gear is now killing mobs much faster than before, and in my case particularly noticeably faster than my holy Priest, and is so much fun, that I've decided to level the Warrior before the frost Mage. But personal consequences aside, all character classes being a lot more powerful has important consequences to gameplay: You have more choice with whom you want to play. I mentioned a dungeon trip where the tank was a Death Knight with a dps spec and dps gear; and yes, that was harder to heal than a Warrior with tank spec and tank gear. But the important point is that it was *possible* to beat the whole dungeon with that setup. Even simple 5-man dungeons now have more skill checks and less gear checks, making fights more interesting, and doable with a wider range of character classes and talent builds. And apparently that change at least survives into the first raid dungeon, Naxxramas, although that up to now is just hearsay, I haven't visited the place yet. That would have huge social consequences: If "bring the player, not the class" becomes even a partial reality, the very structure of raid guilds and how raids are set up would change for the better.

Nevertheless Wrath of the Lich King also has retained some old flaws. As far as I know raid dungeons still have lockout periods, preventing players from mixing freely on raid nights. In spite of having more zones to level up in, Northrend is still in many places overpopulated, and the same rampant kill-stealing that made Hellfire Peninsula so unpleasant at the start of TBC still continues into the new zones. Now that a significant number of players reached level 77, and re-gained the ability to fly, the flyers ninjaing your ores or quest items while you fight the mobs next to it happens again. But that is more a problem of some players being jerks, and on the positive side of the same coin I've seen multiple situations where players first invite everyone into a group before attacking a named mob, making quest progress faster for everyone.

And in spite of all improvements, Wrath of the Lich King is still World of Warcraft at heart. It is still a game which is very much about gear, and not skill. It is still a PvE game, with some minor PvP elements. It is still a game with comic graphics designed to run well on an old computer, not the latest in high-end graphics effects and photo-realism. Wrath of the Lich King is a very good expansion to World of Warcraft, but it is an expansion, not a fundamental change of the game. Which is good, because fundamental changes of the NGE kind aren't all that appreciate in the end.

So, if you ever liked World of Warcraft, you will probably like Wrath of the Lich King. If you prefer a very different kind of game, WotLK won't change that. And even if you like WotLK, there is realistic chance that you will grow bored of it after a few months. But a few months of fun for under $40 plus $15 per month still sounds like a good deal to me. I have no idea what I'll play in a year, but right now I'm playing this! For me Wrath of the Lich King beats expectations, and that is quite a feat.
I think blizz are good learner. I did not think that TBC was really more of the same. They learned for TBC too. The flow of quests, the quest hub concepts with lead-ins etc was already much better than vanilla where one could have a questlog full with quests and still get lost finding anything managable to do, traveling far and wide to get quests. Vanilla instancing often meant that you had to collect on two continents, running by foot!

We just forgot how harsh vanilla leveling was compared to TBC. But you are totally right that WotLK takes it much further. Very well done lore-heavy story lines, diverse quests sets, well structured. You are never left with more than 5-6 quests to do at a time and it's well guided and designed.

Landscaping and scenary is amazing, and WOW moments are frequent. Even just for the leveling game, WotLK is worth it and it's the best expansion yet. And if you are 75, you haven't seen the best yet. Enjoy the ride, there is truly stunning stuff ahead.
"It is still a game with comic graphics designed to run well on an old computer"

I actually got WotLK running on my EEE pc. While this isn't my main gaming rig it is nice to be able to have a portable version of WoW. The EEE is probably equivilent to a 7 year old desktop, so it is great that WoW runs on it. It runs okay too. In towns I get a very low FPS (5-10 fps). If I'm out soloing quests however it runs with no noticable FPS lag(about 15-20 fps). I'll probably use the EEE to run bg's while I watch movies in the living room or something....the honor grind for BG's is far too much to devote all of my attention to.
What you said in this post is exactly why I prefer longer play sessions when playing WoW. WotLK feels more like a world than TBC ever did, and I did not want to leave it. Now that I've seen a bit of the endgame I'm less impressed though, but that's just to be expected, sooner or later you will run out of content no matter what. I still doubt I will level any alts to 80 the first few months though, because levelling is still a daunting task, and having seen everything before (I'm almost done with the Loremaster achievement) doesn't really help.

WotLK did do a great overhaul to the levelling game though, and I hope this sets precedent for future patches/expansions and most importantly, for other MMOs. I might even want to try another one if it dares being really new and not just WoW with some extra gimmicks. I get enough of those in WoW raiding.
I think the biggest improvements in WotLK are with the quests and how well integrated into lore they are, and how well they flow together with each other to set up something memorable. Both the Tundra and the Fjord quests work together to set up everything that ultimately happens in Dragonblight, for example. Its great. But I agree, at the same time it seems they didn't learn a whole lot from BC in certain other areas - like the arena quests in Zul'Drak, for example. My friends and I gave up on them because the area was so jam packed full of people, having the area instanced so one group can do them without fighting the crowd would have been ideal.

While I'm not so quick to harp on BC content (after all, two years ago we thought BC was the best thing since sliced bread), I am enjoying WotLK content quite a bit more than I enjoyed BC content, although I still think some BC zones and quest chains are really well done.
You're a cyncial embittered blogger, even if you dont think you feel that way from one day to the next. That is how your write. I thought your piece at the time was silly, for many many obvious reasons. The most obvious one being
- you're a gamer who plays video games all the time and blogs about them
- blizzard are an enormously successful company with millions of dedicated customers

Than, in itself, should demonstrate to you why they'll always be many many steps ahead of you and your blogger kind. Hope you learn some humility one of these days.
BC content sucked compaired to WotLK content. I don't think people expected that to be true. Blizzard clearly pay attention to what worked and what people found fun in BC and did more of it this time around. I also think they really really put time into figuring out how to make progression work for new players. I did 2 wings of Naxx last night and it was pretty wonderful. The fights are very easy once you "get them". All the "get them" mechanic's are reasonable to explain in text or over vent and we could "learn" every fight in 1 or 2 attempts. When we failed it was always clear what happened to cause the failure and this is a wonderful change from how raiding has worked in the past. I think the biggest weakness of WoW endgame in the past has was blizzard focusing so much on gear checks for bosses. None of these fights had any hard gear requirements it was all learning basic WoW boss fight mechanics. I think the best example of that is Anub'Rekhan. The tank has to kite the boss and keep the boss more than 30 yards but less than 40 yards from the healers every so often. The room is a circle and has a clear path on the ground for kiting.

Blizzard did good job. I think advantage from taking such a long time for expansions is they are able to process better what worked and what didn't work from the current expansion.

I also agree many people will quit the game in 6 months after they have completed the content. This is great, it allows some other MMORPG's to exist and maybe someday another great one will appear. A 2nd good experience for a expansion means people will be back again for more always.
Call me "anonymous Tobold fan #258". To other anonymous above, re "cynical embittered blogger", I think your comment is ridiculous. I read a lot of WoW-related blogs. I read Tobold because he is a good writer and he explores a lot of long-term issues related to MMORPGs and what makes them fun or less than fun. Sure he plays more than I do (I have kids), but I appreciate reading his take on various things I haven't done yet. I thought the post the other day about the "torture quest" was very interesting and reminded me of my college philosophy classes. Maybe Tobold can be acidic in his criticism sometimes, but that's totally par for the course in blogs, and as I said, he writes well. I'm confident if another, more-fun MMORPG than WoW emerges, Tobold will hear about it before I do, but I will learn about it through his blog. Because of even the limited stuff he has said about LotRO, I am considering getting that game, as I weigh others as well.

I don't think that it follows that "Blizzard is an enormously successful company" and that therefore they will be many steps ahead of Tobold and his blogger-kind. Microsoft is an enormously successful company, but they have produced a lot of software that has sucked over time; most of their software sucks when it is launched and it gets better over time; some of Microsoft's software still sucks. Just because WoW is MMORPG king right now doesn't mean a smart person can't spot when they are "jumping the shark" or "nuking the fridge" on an issue or MMORPG trend.

So, cynical anonymous person above, what do you do with your free time? Or maybe you have no free time because you have some super-important role in 21st century human society like Mall Ninja. Go practice your Wax on/Wax off techniques for three hours to bolster your inbred sense of superiority.
I think this is an excellent post on how WotLK has improved over TBC and you've got to give Blizz credit for addressing a lot of the issues from TBC, obviously they couldn't fix everything in one go, but I think this expansion has gone a long way to extending the life of WoW. If it had been another TBC it could well have signalled the end of WoW for the masses.

To the anonymous poster "cynical embittered blogger" I'm not sure what your problem is, the article was balanced and valid, also your comment about "you and your blogger kind" makes you sound like the cynical bitter one. Secretly I think someone wants his own blog where he can impart his over inflated opinions but is scared no one will visit it.

Keep up the good work Tobold and ignore the idiots.

Big Ted - Turalyon EU
"I've seen multiple situations where players first invite everyone into a group before attacking a named mob"

You don't even have to be in a group if a named mob drops a quest item, it seems; you can loot the body if someone else has killed it as long as you are close-by when it dies.
Maybe it's just me, but WoTLK seems just like TBC to me. How does one go from slaying Mr Stormrage in Black temple to doing errand boy quests again? Even phasing , while a note worthy attempt at atmosphere and the "your actions ACTUALLY change the game world ", is no where nearly as well done as Lord of the Rings Online, who did it first.

World of Warcraft is a good game, but so far the expansions are just more of the same. I'm glad my fellow MMORPGers are enjoying it, but I'm gonna have to fool around more with other games.
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