Sunday, 06 March 2005
Having had his grubby mitts all over the Beta code of World of Warcraft for a year now, Ed warns us that the game isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Please note, this review is related to the American game and servers, thus it does not necessarily reflect those playing on the European servers; however, it may just do that too. Who knows.
MMORPGs are by far the most maligned of the genres. While flight simulators are predominantly played by a small, knowledgeable demographic, MMORPGs are generally hated for their beardy, dedicated players, who apparently never see the sun and live on a diet of Cheetos and Mountain Dew. However, at the same time, they are also insanely popular, garnering hundreds of thousands of subscriptions depending on how good they are – or, at least, how well they are publicised. As such, it is no surprise to anybody that Blizzard, game-fantasy giants, have stepped in and attempted to tap the genre for more money to put into producing games that are as quick and fun to play as they were to develop. Behind them stands a slavering pack of wolfish fanboys, who refuse to believe that Blizzard can do wrong, slamming unbelievers with insults regarding their family situation, their sexuality, their gaming prowess, or their prowess with women.
Not to mention millions of dollars of investment.
World of Warcraft is the continuation of the famous strategy game’s storyline, in which the horde and the alliance are (gasp!) at war with eachother. You, as a fledgling adventurer, must gain experience through a number of quests and gain an increasing level of loot to reach a higher level, in which to pass more quests, and get more loot. This process takes hours; in the case of World of Warcraft, less hours than its direct competitors Everquest and City of Heroes. Thus, any MMORPG is like signing a contract that says that you are going to be there for a long haul, no matter how spread out that haul is. It is this that is at first WoW’s greatest element; with the independence from group activity (perish the thought that you may socialise in a game with thousands of players), you are able to have a successful ten or twenty minute game at first, completing various quest objectives for experience or coin, or creating some form of item using a tradeskill and selling it at the Auction House.
In fact, the first few hours – even the first few months of World of Warcraft are excellent. If you are new to MMO’s, you are eased into the world and are able to carry along quite happily without being overwhelmed by statistics or game mechanics that would overwhelm you. You are able to moderate your game time without (as you would find in Everquest) knowing that the minimum time that would be needed to progress at all is an hour. Quests are easy, levelling is easy, and yet it all takes enough time to be considered both worth your investment and continue to be engrossing when the going gets tougher, once you reach level 30. Classes are varied, and at first they all seem reasonably equal; to top it off, you’re not forced to group, and thus don’t depend on other players. If you choose a player versus player server, you can clash against other players, and show them just how good you are. At least, that’s how it’s meant to work.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
You may not have realised that you have to pay money to keep playing this game. There are reasons behind this, naturally. You pay for a persistent world that is updated constantly, and the ability to play with thousands of other players. That is the essence of the MMO – that you are paying to play constantly, and that in turn you are given something back from the community and the managers of the game that makes your money worth it.
This may not seem so apparent until you reach the higher levels. It may not seem so apparent until you realise that you have reached a point where the quests aren’t as easy to find, and that you’ve got a choice; to go potter around unnecessarily and hope that you’ll come across one that doesn’t require a group, or, god help you, actually try and find a group. If you make it to the fabled level 60, you are most likely able to get into a raiding guild, and face the upper echelons of challenge.
This is, of course, if you’ve bothered to group before, and learnt your class in the process. This may or may not seem silly to you – of course you learnt your class! You spent X amount of hours killing crocodiles in inventive ways! How dare I say that!
Something that dawns upon the better players at the higher levels is the large number of those who have not made any effort to group with others. The tougher instances, which begin to appear to you around level 40, require some sort of thought to them. This can be challenging for some players. More challenging than you could possibly imagine. Take this situation; there are three monsters. One of them is constantly laying mines and doing large amounts of damage, because you are not focusing upon killing him, and stopping his mines detonating. In this situation, it seems elementary to focus upon the mine-layer and his mines. At least, it does to the smarter player. To the sillier one, it seems more fun to kill whatever is closest to them and scream something in the region of “HEAL ME!!!!” before they explode.
This isn’t a rare occurrence of stupidity, just a stranger manifestation of it. Most of the time it will arise from the ashes of your shattered group as your warrior fails to hold the attention of the monster, or decides to mine from an ore vein instead of stopping the priest from dying. Or maybe your priest decided that the better idea would be to get a cup of coffee, instead of paying attention to the crucial, epic battle.
But I digress. These people could just be making a mistake. They could have their off days. They couldn’t just be whining prepubescent fanboys, could they?
Yes. Yes they could. Those transferring from EQ to WoW worried incessantly about this; that the fabled b.net community, made up of players anywhere between the age of ten and sixteen, each more stupid than the next, pining about whatever it is that comes into their heads. What would be bearable is if the b.netters were uncommon – that they were a minority. What is the painful truth is that these people are common in all levels of the game. The detritus of the gaming world have covered this game like limescale. While other players who are less mentally challenged are still around, for the most part you will find yourself associating with lovely players such as “DETHBRIGNER” or “xXxAxehiltxXx” who will happily tell you how remarkably hard they “own” you, or happily croon “CAVEAT EMPOR <3” when they scam somebody.
It would be much easier if the game itself made up for this. However, around the 40th level, the quests become spaced out to a degree that it becomes more boring than spending your fifth hour straight in The Bastion of Thunder grinding out level 65 in Everquest. To top it off, the lack of skilful players makes passing instances without a guild remarkably difficult. Not to mention the fact that the game is created with the classic holy trinity of classes; the healer, the controller, and the tank taking up three of the five slots before you (if you’re the wrong class) even have the chance to join.
Finally, the game hasn’t got a sustained patching system. In Everquest, it was commonplace to see a patch every Wednesday. In WoW, it is commonplace to see a patch on one Wednesday a month, at most, and that is not necessarily going to be a content patch. In fact, as http://www.patchtimer.org proves, there hasn’t been a content patch in quite some time, and with no guarantees as to when, the playerbase is up in arms as to what’s happening to their fifteen dollars a month.
In general, WoW is not looking good. For the year or so that I played, seeing the game mature through the beta phases, I enjoyed around half of it, and then the experience began to plummet as far as fun went. The strategy of hiring Tigole and Furor (two of the more infamous critic-players of Everquest) to save themselves bad press from the more vocal players, combined with their atrocious customer service and lamentable patch system, makes me hate Blizzard beyond words, moreover because they are still popular for it. The vocal minority are even more so in this case, and thus nothing will change, and yet they will still make money, to make more poorly maintained games filled with angry, stupid teenagers.
Everything that’s been said in this review is perfectly accurate and for the most part was given to you as warnings throughout the Beta period, reasonably large errors from which still exist in your supposed retail game. Combined with your lacking server stability and lacklustre support for the game players pay monthly for, you do not deserve the money you are gaining.
I hope my generalisations haven’t offended you too much. Enter http://www.worldofwarcraft.com if you don’t believe me.
Fix your game, Blizzard. Listen to your players, actually cater to the high end, fix bugs that need fixing, and don’t leave your playerbase hanging for months on end. Then I will give your game a higher mark. Until then, this is the score you get, and the score you quite rightly deserve for your poor ethics and poorer maintenance.