Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Hopes and fears for exploration in Cataclysm

Among the various new features promised for the upcoming Cataclysm expansion of World of Warcraft, one that interests me a lot is the new archaeology secondary profession. This works supposedly by you searching through ruins and finding "notes" , which then can be combined into "ancient glyphs", which are used to give your character further bonuses independant of the inscription glyph system.

Now according to the Bartle Test, I'm an explorer. So I have high hopes for this new system leading to some real opportunity to explore the lands of Azeroth. Ideally these ruins would pop up randomly all over the world, thus by you running around and looking under every bush and stone, visiting the most remote and least populated places you'd have the best chances to find those notes and artifacts.

But what I'm afraid of is that there will be only a handful of ruin "spawn" points, always at the same locations, and before the expansion is even released we'll have all the coordinates of all possible ruins listed on some website. Or that you don't need to explore to find them, because with the archaeology skill they will show up as golden spots on your minimap, just like herb or ore nodes. Even worse, if there are in the early days far more people interested in ruins than there are ruin spawn points, we'll see half a dozen people standing around the same spot, seeing who can click fastest when the ruin finally pops.

As you can see there is a huge span between my highest hopes and my deepest fears. How can that be? Because if you look at it closer, you will find that feature announcements not really tell you very much. In a press release even a game like Tabula Rasa sounds great, and then it shuts down because in reality it wasn't all that great. Often players think they know what a feature means, but if you look at various implementations of the same feature, lets say "player housing" in Ultima Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XI and Star Wars Galaxies, you'll have 4 completely different systems which have very little in common. A few lines of text on the official site, like "Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards." plus some developer words in a blue post or pronounced on some panel during Blizzcon isn't really telling us much about how the new feature will actually work.

And this example is why my blog talks very little about upcoming games and expansions, maybe mentioning various announcements without going too deep into analysis of what was said. I *am* looking forward to various future games, from Cataclysm to Star Wars: The Old Republic. But I don't feel comfortable of saying too much about a game before I haven't even played the beta. Remember the vast network of Warhammer Online blogs which were created before the game was even in beta? Most of them shut down a few months after release, because reality didn't live up to what people had imagined based on feature announcements and developer videos. I can imagine a dozen different systems for archeology in Cataclysm, and still never get the guess exactly right. So why bother with speculation? Safer to wait and see, at least until the beta.
If they really cover all Azeroth with ruins, the world could just be big enough for exploration. It won't be the best exploration experience ever, but it won't be a charade, either.

If they place ruins only in some parts, it heavily depends on the size of the server.
That might be a lot of fun on PvP servers actually. Seems like Blizzard tries to keep flying mounts and still have people running around on the ground. Typical for them. They always try to go for it all - and sometimes fail (arena).

I wonder, however, how long it will take to max out on these artifacts. If it takes just a month or so that would be sad.

I hope for diminishing returns and no final limit, but I don't think that's what it will be. Blizzard for some reason doesn't like DR for achievements, but rather goes for gates approaches.

However, I don't see how this thing could be gated, if not by drastcally limiting the spawn of artifacts. This would anger casual players even more. They could, of course, just gate the number of artifacts you can gather per day or week - but that would feel even more stupid.

What's very interesting is the power of mobs around these ruins. I wonder wether Blizzard has learnt and makes mobs a little bit more powerful. The WotLK mobs where a joke, also while leveling. I didn't feel strong, because I could shred these polygons to pieces, but actually I felt like 'just playing a game'. That's bad.

I wonder wether Blizzard has put some effort into caves. The original caves in WoW are very simple and repetetive. If they expand the world beneth the surface so that there really are a lot of labyrinths - too many to map them all. Or too much 3D-like to map them efficiently on some web page .. well that might be fun.

Again, I don't think that's what it's going to be, but I don't think it's totally impropable, either.
Thinking about the strength of mobs in Cataclysm: They will probably be even weaker than the WotLK mobs, because the power scale has been expanded so much in this expansion. You have (epic)Itemlvl 200 to 300 (approximately by the time of the release).

So, the mobs will either be much too strong for green levelers, or much too trivial for equipped players, which nowadays are the majority. That's unfortunate :(
>Again, I don't think that's what it's going to be, but I don't think it's totally impropable, either.

You might not, but I DO think it's total improbable. I have complete faith in Blizzard to completely fuck it up, actually. Unless, of course, it's actually a second try at something they failed before (as glyphs are to gems), in which case they might actually some of it right.

If it's a third attempt, (archeology to glyphs to gems) then maybe they'll be as sparkly shiny happy as Tobold predicts.

Though, I doubt it.
I had assumed that archaeology would be just like mining or herbaslism. Every now and then you’ll come across a small pile of rubble about the size of an ore node and gather whatever materials are inside it. Blizzard seems to be pushing this “exploration” thing though, so it may have some other gimmick. I haven’t heard very much about it, and I do love exploring, so I hope it isn’t as simple as I’m assuming. Maybe finding three map fragments will show you where to find a bigger stash. A “somewhere within this radius” type of deal.

If Blizzard wants us to go exploring for these ruins, they’ll have to meticulously place them in out of the way areas, and even then they’ll be found and tracked within weeks (of beta). But if the locations are randomized, then there’s little reason to actually explore out of your way, since you’d have just as much of a chance to run into one wherever you’re headed. I’d actually like it better if some of the revamped areas have little to no content and act as simply “the wilderness”. Then exploration might be possible. As it is now, WoW is too carefully designed to truly explore.

The only time I could call myself an explorer in WoW is way back Pre-BC when there was a bug that let you move slowly along the edge of mountain. It took a lot of practice, wasn’t always reliable, and not many people knew about it, but I was able to get to many areas that certainly weren’t meant for players to see. I’d always get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when I’d come upon the sharp, awkward texture lines between zones, or reach the top of Ironforge as a Horde and look down at the duelers, or find the completely flat area of what I assumed at the time would be the Northern Plaguelands. I actually got bored very quickly after they patched that “exploit”; it was probably the most fun I’ve had in the game.
I'd just go with the Occam's Razor theory here and pretty going to assume it's going to be exactly like all the other harvesting activities which consists of nodes popping up at relatively fixed places.

In fact this whole thing sounds identical to LOTRO's "scholar" crafting profession which is pretty much nodes in the form of "pots", "statues" , "books/pages" and "ancient tablets" .
What we know so far is what they told us at Blizzcon. However, since we haven't heard anything since it's quite possible it's changed drastically.

Step 1 - Gather artifacts (works like a regular gathering skill)
Step 2 - Do something (Bliz said it could possibly a mini-game) with the artifacts
Step 3 - You are now sent somewhere in the world to perform a 'challenge', the nature of which remains unknown

Tradeskills have a lot of utility in WoW but using them isn't that fun. In a game of raiding and dragons and dungeons and questing and pvp and (etc.), crafting almost always involves buying mats off the auction house, going to a ‘special place’, then pressing a button and waiting for a progress bar. Tradeskills have a crafting “fun gap” that I’m hoping Archaeology will try to fill.
If they actually design a system to reward exploration I would love it. I'm an explorer/achiever when it comes to the bartle test, but most of the time exploration doesn't matter in MMOs because of maps, mini-maps, and the fact that so many people have been everywhere before you.

So far exploration has only rewarded a tiny amount of xp and achievements. It would be really cool if exploring led to an alternate advancement system.
Thinking about the strength of mobs in Cataclysm: They will probably be even weaker than the WotLK mobs, because the power scale has been expanded so much in this expansion. You have (epic)Itemlvl 200 to 300 (approximately by the time of the release).

I was thinking about this same problem last month. I wrote a whole post on the way expansions level the playing field. Basically, Blizzard has to tune their new content to the lowest common denominator, which is a freshly minted level 80 in questing greens. As soon at Cataclysm launches it would be stupid for people to get stuck and 80 trying to gear up before moving on to new content.
As soon at Cataclysm launches it would be stupid for people to get stuck and 80 trying to gear up before moving on to new content.

That's certainly debateable. But you described Blizzard point of view :)
This sounds a lot like the scholar skill in lotro actually.

Rest assured though, that whatever best item you can make with the skill will continually be made obsolete with each successive patch update. So really, you will always only have 1-2 useful items at level cap. Nothing to be excited about.
But I don't feel comfortable of saying too much about a game before I haven't even played the beta.

I have to declare shenanigans on this statement. You predicted that SW:TOR would basically be a disappointment and a flop based solely on one dev statement that you would be able to solo all the content.
It's funny that the point of Tobold's post is that he doesn't like to write about undefined upcoming features because it just leads to conjecture.

And here we are conjecturing. turn.

"Random" spawns of instanced ruins would be very cool. Perhaps awareness of the location of a spawn would be faster with higher Arch. skill level. You could choose to communicate that or not.

Maybe it would only exist somewhere in Azeroth for 1 hour but you could stay in the instance as long as you wanted.

Perhaps the instances could be non-combative. More puzzle or maze oriented, (or even lore orented)bringing together players of all levels.

They could be soloed, but maybe the total arch. skill of a group would somehow confer a time advantage in solving the puzzle.

Blizzard, please give me some puzzles.
I think you can be relatively certain that the ruins will be nodes just like any other resource, and they will behave in an identical manner.
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