Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Troll overengineering

Quests in World of Warcraft have come a long way in the last six years. While most quests in vanilla WoW were of the “kill 10 foozles” variety, with a few FedEx quests and rare escort quests thrown in, we now have scripted events, phasing, NPC interactions, vehicles and even mini-games in quests. That is a huge improvement, and questing has become a lot more fun over the years. The Shattering brought many of these improvements to the old level 1-60 zones, in an effort to improve the new player experience. Having said all that, I must nevertheless question the wisdom of using some of the most complicated quest technologies in the level 1-5 new troll starting area.

Now for a veteran, rolling a new troll character is fun; and the facts that trolls are now able to become druids, and not every Horde player wants to play a cow as druid, has led to a newbie zone full of troll druids. Far from being the usual fare, the new quests have you collecting a posse of baby raptors using a whistle, lasso an ultra-fast raptor mob and get a taste of riding, get a NPC druid friend/henchman named Zuni to help you through a dungeon full of nagas, and help the leader of the trolls Vol'jin to kill his nemesis, the Sea Witch, during which fight your friend Zuni tragically dies. But while these quests are interesting to veterans, they are often badly described and confusing to new players. For example the quest text for the final battle against the Sea Witch tells you to kill that witch, but as she had 600k health and you are level 5 that isn’t actually your role in that fight. Instead you battle low-level “manifestations”, and extinguish three braziers, none of which is listed in the quest text or the objectives in the quest tracker. You do this quest by *not* doing what the quest asks you to do. Furthermore many of the new quest texts were not very precise with directions. As a result the general chat in Durotar was full of players asking about this and other troll newbie quests, being unsure what to do. That is not the new player experience that would persuade a larger percentage than the current 30% to get past level 10 in the free trial.

So after playing a troll warrior to level 7, I created an orc mage to see how the old orc/troll starting area had changed. Except for introducing the orcs vs. humans lore aspect earlier, and grouping the first mobs to kill closer together, the orc starting experience was basically unchanged. Mostly kill quests, a quest to collect cactus apples, and one quest to hit lazy peons with a cudgel to get them to work. Simple, but still fun. The only depressing thing about it was to see in direct comparison how much WoW is skewed against melee now, and how much Blizzard still hates warriors: The mage at levels 1 to 5 was easily twice as powerful as the warrior in that level range, killed mobs with two shots, and got the more interesting and universally useful abilities at levels 3 and 5, while the warrior at those levels got only abilities that can be used only once per combat (Charge and Victory Rush).

So while I very much welcome added quest complexity and a Plants vs. Zombies mini-game in Hillsbrad, I think that for new players at least levels 1 to 5 should have remained simple, like the orc starting area is now, and not overly elaborate, like the new troll starting area. The troll newbie experience is simply overengineered, showing off all the new bells and whistles Blizzard added to their arsenal over the years, but somehow misses the basic purpose of a newbie zone when it comes to really new players.
silly tobold, the lazy peons quest is the best one in wow, and will ever be! :P

Apart from that, i was also surprised of the quickness and complexity of the troll starting zone. Interestingly, Blizzard expected most troll rerollers would be veterans, or simply that the person in charge of creating the experience wanted to please himself :)

Afterwards, the quests seems to have quite changed due to the reforging if the world (i'm still level 8), so i'm hoping for lots of new content. Especially the barrens part, which was incredidly bland in the original game. We'll see :)
During beta I reported the death of quest texts, due to the in-game "questhelper" system. It seems like now it's expected that you'll see the point on the map and go there and do whatever some npc/mob/emote tells you to do instead of reading the quest text for information.

Not that I expeted any "fix", but clearly the unclear (:P) quest texts made it to live.....
I started an undead yesterday and have a blast. At first, however, I was stuck at the first quest. Some things you need to collect do now spawn until you relog. Ouch! I guess it will be fixed for release ;)

Otherwise, the new questing is worth an own blog post. On the one hand side you are more on rails than ever. On the other hand, the old way, while less on rails, was very unimmersive. So, I basically enjoy the new system - especially for the undead. I also tried a troll and didn't like it for some reason. Don't really know why.

The main reason Cataclysm will be a success will be technical exellence, not game design. I think it has been this way for 10 years now ;)
IMHO, the starting zones should also give a taste of what's the game's going to be in the later levels. Boss fights, friendly NPCs, mounts and vehicles.. If you're trying to convince a prospective customer to stick around, surely you don't wish to underrepresent the game? Underestimating your customers is as bad as a sin as overestimating them.
I always thought back in vanilla WoW that someone had deliberately made quest directions misleading as that seemed the only explanation to why often they were so bad.
I do not "welcome added quest complexity ". Not in a starter zone, nor at any other stage. The addition of tropes from other genres in no way increases my fun; indeed it subtracts from it.

All the complexity in MMOs that I require comes from my relationship with my characters. The less freedom of action they are given, the more they are constricted and directed either by scripted events or moral prescriptives allocated to them within quest dialog, the less engaged I become with them and with the world they inhabit.

All I need to know is the basic political structure of the area (who's in charge, who's at war with whom) and an outline of the relevant threats and opportunies. Tell me which merchant will buy wolf-pelts and what bounty the militia offers for gnoll scalps and I'll make my own fun for years.
I agree with you here.
I started a gnome yesterday and did all the newbie quests until I was naturally led out of the newbie zone.
I liked the background story and the diversity of quests, but had a feeling that it was a bit complicated for genuine new players.
I also have an issue with the "Zuni" character. WoW is all about being the big bad hero in the world of Azeroth. Unlike Eve, in which you can be a solo entrepreneur/trader, WoW is all about being the best of the best in gear and combat (PvP or PvE).

But it seems that every troll who ever walked the earth had a friend called Zuni, who tragically died. I understand the need for shared experiences, but they don't need to be this starkly similar...
Hey! How 'bout a spoiler alert before mentioning Zuni's death? Luckily, I did the troll quests last night and already knew about his unfortunate demise. But others might have their 10 minutes as a troll noob ruined by your thoughtless blog post.

Seriously though, it wasn't *that* hard or confusing. A message told you to kill the adds and stomp out the fires, and I'm sure it would have repeated if you ignored it. If anything WoW II is a little bit too easy and hand-holdy. I've been playing level 40ish content and find everything so neat and *streamlined* that it removes the incentive to just go out and explore. It seems very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to accidentally wander into a higher level zone, and stumbling on unbreadcrumbed quest givers is a thing of the past.

But the solo boss fights are nifty, and I am enjoying the removal of much of the grind. I'm looking forward to starting a goblin and playing the game with fresh eyes.
Not sure if you've had the chance to do it yet, but I also tried the new gnome starting area last night. It seems like they got it a little closer to the mark with that one. Still a big boss fight at the end - but they did make it slightly more clear how you are supposed to contribute - although can be hard to tell the results of what you are doing during the fight.
My main is a warrior with 360 days played, and I agree with you about the terrible relationship Blizzard has with warriors. Where they are finally made to do decent dps or be adequate in PvP with all of their limitations and lack of toolkit abilities... then other classes cry nerf and Blizzard slaps warriors back down.

Warriors are in fact fine at low level, provided you have a two-handed heirloom. The weapon you start with has a damage range of 2-4, yet an heirloom at level one has a damage range of 34-42, easily allowing you to kill any enemy in one hit for many levels. :3
Gotta disagree with those warrior abilities, I enjoy charge and victory rush a LOT at early levels. But maybe that's just me liking the idea of flinging myself to the next enemy.
You should try a gnome. It sounds way, way better than what you're describing. I had no problems figuring out what the quest wanted.
I have not played through the troll zone in live but in beta I did roll a druid troll and absolutely loved it.

I cannot remember having difficulty locating quest objectives from the verbal descriptions but must admit the brazier issue was present then but was just something I did without thinking.

Re the 30% leaving before level 10 statement I am pretty certain that nothing will greatly improve this.

I strongly believe that the majority of trial accounts are created by gold sellers.
There is a giant yellow text all over your screen that tells you exactly what you have to do in the fight. And I think the NPCs are even yelling instructions, but I'm not sure on that (was a few month back when I did it)

How is that not newbie friendly?
Depends what you define as evolution of quests.
Quests that have nothing to do with the core gameplay are not something that attract me. I have no problem with kill X of Y, it is the game itself and how that happens that should be underlined.
e.g. obtain a normal X of Y quest. Well that simple quest becomes far more interesting when multiple players NEED it (or any other situation built into the game that uses player interactions, etc). Then it becomes much more complex. And I think Blizzard lost that. They simply forgot to balance their game around gameplay and hence jumped to the conclusion that it was the quest structure itself that was the issue and NOT the structure of the game. So instead they create quests that have nothing to do with the MMO or RPG aspects of the genre (a.k.a. meaningless mini-games that don't involve ANYTHING you have done with your character AND don't involve other people).
Same concept as those awful MARIO KARTS in PVP battles. They have NOTHING to do with the core of the game or of what the game is meant to be in terms of its genre... Yet they are there?!
To me quest varity is great, IF it had to do with the core of the game. And that core of the game itself has to be good. One of the reasons why WOW got so horrible was because quest varity became 'mini-games', hence all randomness that other players could introduce and all other aspects of the MMORPG were removed in favour of horrible mock ups of proper games (e.g. MARIO KART in PVP, if I want to play MARIO KART via shooting bombs that other players, I'd PLAY MARIO KART and not a cheap imitation).
I think through it you can see that Blizzard wishes to not make a MMORPG anymore. That was the original mission... But now that is gone and in the end there is just this empty shell of a game that used to be the genre it still claims it is.
I really love what Blizz have done with the Talent system and I think should consider implementing it from level 5 instead of level 10. For a lot of classes, such as the Warrior, it's an incredibly defining moment for the class and now opens up a lot of abilities and playstyles very early on in the game. I think it would help people get past the level 10 mark if they could get more of a flavour of their class sooner.
In regard to low level Mages being OP:

Up until wrath and BOA's, mages were one of the most difficult classes to level early on. You had no choice to but to two shot mobs b/c they could also two shot you.

I remember trying to level as a frost mage a few years ago, with the idea that I could use CC to survive and level, HA! The CC and snares early on were far to gimpy and mana intensive to be practical for leveling. I had to switch to fire and start only attacking mobs that could be 2 shot.

Melee toons are much simpler to level early one b/c you dont' have to worry about dying in 2 seconds if the mob gets within melee range of you. Although with the right BOA's and level 60 enchants, any class is pretty OP early on right now.
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