Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 13, 2010
The dimensions of Cataclysm

In August 2007 I talked about the dimensions of a MMORPG, defining length, depth, and breadth. And I complained about Wrath of the Lich King offering mainly added length, and completely neglecting breadth, which would be needed for better replayability. In hindsight that looks like a design document for Cataclysm: The Shattering and Cataclysm together add enormous breadth to World of Warcraft, with over 4,000 new quests, two new races, four new starting zones, and so many remodelled zones. But as resources are never infinite, a consequence of this breadth is that Cataclysm might be the shortest expansion ever.

Cataclysm is not yet a week old, and without even trying to level fast I'm already in the middle of level 83, just by finishing Vashj'ir and running a few dungeons. Many in my guild are already at the new level cap. People who don't want to play alts, but only want to play their main character, will see that Cataclysm added less new zones and new dungeons than Wrath of the Lich King did. Of course with dungeons now being much harder it is well possible that raid progress will be slower in Cataclysm. But somehow one week to the level cap followed by two years of slow raid progress doesn't look very balanced to me.

I still think that this was a good idea. The renovation of old Azeroth makes World of Warcraft more likely to continue attracting new player, while at the same time giving old players a lot of content to play through with alts. But it makes me wonder who exactly Blizzard considers to be their core audience. I guess we'll have to wait and see how raiding develops in Cataclysm to find out.
Over the years, I've gotten the impression that blizz didn't even want to target such a thing as a core audience, but that they rather focussed on offering something for everyone. Which, judging from the game's success, seems to have been the right mindset.

In the end, I think the problem of expansions and attachment stems from the fact that wow is "nothing but an mmo", and that it has to compete with rl for attention. At least for me personally, the reason why I didn't (yet :-> ) buy the expansion is not another game, it's simply that like many others, I've played it for five years now. Even if this new expansion was three times its content, would veterans continue playing? I don't know.

Wow is as good a computer game as it gets. But it's now been up against rl ("...shitty story, amazing graphics...") for a few years already.
Tobold highlighted some good points about the latest expansion. I think Cataclysm is excellent and the quality is 100% but it is SO short. I can imagine the masses of WoW players unsubscribing within the next few months when they run out of things to do.

I continue to wonder why Blizzard earns the greatest amount of profit of any MMO on the market and yet offers the least amount of released expansion content compared to many other MMO's.
The content of any expansion will be breezed through no matter what, I'd say. People complained back in Wrath that they were "done", i.e. at 80, after just a couple of days.

Also, not to be picky, but counting the number of 80-85 zones I get seven. In Wrath, we had eight (not counting Crystalsong, which – well – didn't count). Granted, some of those zones were rather big, and saying that Vasj'r is three zones may be too generous, but the physical size of zones has never been the sole deciding factor for success (witness old Barrens...)

It seems to me that what they've done here is encourage all the veterans to go back and reexperience the whole world, regardless of whether you only have one or 15 alts. Probably a good move.
I agree. Blizzard did the right thing, but it couldn't be a perfect one.

I raided yesterday, wiped all day and loved it. Relatively slow, quite hard and all about healer mana.

At this point in time I am optimistic about Cataclysm.
Turbine's LotRO plan has been very similar over the past year or so.
While Cataclysm is actually a huge expansion considering all the work done, the nature of the vertical progression guarantees that only a few zones/dungeons are actually relevant at any given time. In past interviews, Blizzard employees have stated that they're fine with content churn; they'll just make more. IMHO, they should try to increase the mileage of the current content (~60 dungeons, ~30 raids). They've done so as a whole to some of the old leveling dungeons, but benefiting from those requires an alt. A mentoring/sidekick system would help.
Well from a "starting at lvl 1" perspective, this expansion is great. This is the only reason i'm playing, to start from scratch.

Unlike alot of other players in WoW i don't have 10 lvl 80 alts , so i am not doing the lvl 80 - 85 grind in a weekend thing.

So i think for new players and players who haven't played in 2 years, this will be good. For people that were playing up until cataclysm, i think will be bored before xmas.....
I think the question Blizzard faced was how to maximize their presence given the age of the game, and the new competition coming into the market soonish (i.e., TOR). Blizzard has, in the past, been somewhat reactive to new games, with Wintergrasp being something of a way to emulate a part of what one could WAR was doing (to take the most recent example) during its development phase. I think the massive introduction of phasing throughout the game, with the various cutscenes and storyline emphasis, is a way of pre-emptively reacting to TOR's entry into the market in '11 (as TOR, being a BioWare game, is widely expected to be heavy on storyline and cutscenes).

Another aspect of this was how to keep the game fresh and appealing for new players while retaining older players as well. I'm not sure how well Cataclysm strikes this balance, but it's early days still. Definitely the new player experience has been revamped, amped up, streamlined and enhanced across the board. It's not clear whether this will make the game more appealing to new players, however, or whether it simply provides a better platform to encourage existing players to level new alts. The addition of the two new races would seem to lean in favor of the latter explanation (unlikely a new race would attract the attention of a new player to the game itself) -- meaning that these changes were intended to shore up the existing player base and get it more engaged in the game as a whole.

It's short, that's true. The quality is high, however -- higher average quality than other content has been in the past, in general. One wonders whether the expac would have been longer had the development resources not been expended on the "free update" content of 4.03a (likely the biggest free content update in any MMO to date), but that's an academic question at this point, really.
Cata does feel shorter than Wrath. After the same period my hunter is 1/4 of the way through 84 and my priest is 82 1/2. And I haven't even tried very hard.

It's not a bad thing IMO. I have 9 characters that I would (some day) like to level to 85.
If you dig up the info from the Blizzard leak of projected release dates, the next expansion for WoW is intended to be releases much quicker than past expansions. They intended Cata to be short.
leveling is fast. but everything is caped, justice point gains, rep gains, guild advancements, even your questing progression (you cannot just skip a quest hub and move on to the next, you have to complete them in order to open up more quests within a zone) and to rectify that - you have super long tedious instances, super long tedious dailies and a complete bottleneck of getting any reasonable advancement for multiple characters. heck, advancing your main character at level cap suddenly becomes a major PITA. and its pretty jarring after quick leveling sprint.

you thought pugging in Wrath was bad? Cata is tons worse.

me I've unsubscribed after less then a week, because I realized that the only things I can look forward to are artificial and frankly to me annoying time sinks.

my main was a shaman. if I wanted to play well in an instance, I had to drink after every other elemental. purging, sometimes even dispelling, interrupting, hexing, placing my totems - not cheap. but if I don't do it, then tedious trash becomes even more tedious and we still have to wait for a healer to drink. bosses? the difficulty jump from regular to heroic is about the same as the difficulty jump from regular ToTC to heroic ToTC, except regular instances are already tedious (some like to call it challenging) enough.

my last straw was wiping repeatedly to a first boss in a heroic, not because we didn't understand mechanics, but because executing said mechanics was largely dependent on rng and group stacking and in every attempt we made, while trying to change strategies - we barely made any progress. would have been doable with a different group comp, but I thought the idea was - bring the player not the class?

Cata is simultaneously short on content and time consuming. except all that artificial time inflation gets old fast. for some, like me, it got old exceptionally quickly, for others it might take a few months. some will keep loving it, just like they seem to enjoy anything that's thrown at them, almost on principle.
6 days into the expansion, you have a character up to the middle of 83.

4 days into wrath you wrote:
My level 70 warrior soloed level 77 mobs. My priest made it to level 73 this weekend, and was playing catch-up with his loot: I had already done several dungeons with guild groups that were up to 4 levels too high for us, and carried around several pieces of loot where the level-restriction prevented me from wearing it. I still need one more level before I can wield the staff I found in Drak'Tharon Keep.

How fast is too fast? How long do you think it should take? Would you add more content? Slow the leveling curve?
"The next expansion for WoW is intended to be releases much quicker than past expansions."

So was Cata. I'll believe it when I see it.


I saw a couple interviews where they said that they had gotten the message that regularly having new raid content was important. Probably a bit more investment there, now that the bulk of the player base does them in normal mode, would help them deal with retention in a shorter leveling expansion. Again, though, I'll believe they can actually produce this content when I see it.

I also wonder if the early dungeon tuning wasn't a pre-emptive strike against the issue of a short leveling experience. If a lot of non-hardcore people were done with heroics and halfway through T11 already the complaints would be substantial.
"But they will most probably stay at exactly this level of challenge for the next two years, while players on the other hand will continue to improve their stats through gear."

This is too bad. The game loses something when all 5-man content is trivial. I wouldn't mind seeing each tier have a set of retuned dungeons on top of the new ones... it could be as simple as +10% dmg/mob health.

Perhaps that would make the hamster wheel too obvious. I dunno, present it as a magical training simulator or something.
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