Warning: Fanboys and Fangirls beware, as this is not a post you will like. I am about to criticize Blizzard, and if that offends your sensibilities, go ahead and mark as read. I don’t mind.
For the rest of you who are still reading, I want to take a hard look at a few aspects of patch 3.2. I am going to try not to wax poetic about how wonderful the BC patches were–in a sense, that was a different game for a different time, and I was also a different player. What I am going to do is talk about Blizzard’s successes and failures under the current design ethos, which I will sum up as Time Sinks for All Players.
Under the somewhat tongue-in-cheek category of the time sink, I comprehend raiding, dailies, instances, and overall reward structure. Let’s look at each of these aspects of patch 3.2 and examine whether Blizzard succeeded in their global goal of keeping their millions of players interested in their game. Notice that I’m not going to talk about class balance, which is a necessary part of any patch and which will be ongoing. I’m talking only about the New Cool Stuff that came in last Tuesday.
The Crusader’s Coliseum
Let me use my Mystic Orb of the Walrus (actually, a bouncy rubber ball full of green sparklies) to channel for you the Crusader’s Coliseum development meeting.
“You know, we really should make a raid instance for this patch.”
“Yeah, something like Zul’Aman. That was really great.”
“Nah, that took us forever to design. We need something easier, like a 5-man.”
“We put a lot of work into those 5-mans! I just don’t think that we can spare that much time.”
“I’ve got it! Why don’t we design an instance with just one room? We can make one room in like, a week.”
“Yeah, YEAH! And oh, let’s make them run it four times per week instead of just two.”
“Excellent. Also, we should make it take four weeks to get each tier piece, even if the bosses are pretty easy. Let’s require an emblem turn-in for each tier piece–that way it will be like old ZG rep gear, and some of them will never get it!”
“Aren’t they going to riot?”
“Well, as long as we let them get some emblems from the heroic daily, we’re good.”
When I walked into the Crusader’s Coliseum, I had a moment of panic as I realized that I was going to be spending 4-5 months of raiding within its hexagonal walls. When I panned my camera upward, I noticed that, far off center in the Alliance cheering section, there were 6 identical Syds cheering me on. I was so creeped out that I got a haircut right after the raid. In an instance where design has been reduced to brown walls and even the spectators are not individuated, how can I have any hope for interesting boss mechanics?
The Crusader’s Coliseum is, quite simply, lazy design.
The Daily Drudgery
Daily quests ought to be fun and easy. If I’m a farming type player, which many are, I’m much more likely to repeat something I find pleasant. I like the Dalaran cooking dailies, for example. They don’t require too much running, and the rewards are sufficient for the time spent. The gold standard of dailies will always be the SSO dailies of Quel’Danas. They used to be so quick, fun, and convenient that I did them on three characters. I will admit that my interest in the game is much lower now than it was back when my guild was working on Illidan. However, I’m pretty sure I’d grind at least one character through similarly well-designed dailies. The Coliseum-area dailies do not measure up. They are quite widespread and hard to do on one’s own. I particularly find the revised version of Battle For the Citadel a pain in the arse to solo. In order to kill 3 commanders, I have to clear any number of lieutenants and get my ass kicked multiple times by respawns. Don’t even get me started on Threat from Above! Dailies should be a solo operation, as they’ve historically been one of the few things one can do in WoW at 4am. As for the new dailies, I’ve only done a couple of them, and they take you a bit far from the questgivers for my taste. Out of ten or so possible dailies, the only one I really love is Among the Champions, where I get to school some NPCs in the joust. I particularly enjoy beating the stuffing out of the uppity Undead guy–if, indeed undeads have any stuffing left after the whole decomposition thing.
The trend in Wrath seems to be to design dailies which take more time and return proportionally less gold. In turn, the non-currency rewards (pets and mounts) are much better than they were in BC. The dailies are almost a pure time sink–and regrettably, I just don’t have that time. For earning money, the AH is the only way to go. I don’t think 6 or so dailies per day, four days a week, would actually pay for raiding, while two hours a week of selling flasks certainly does.
I hate to say that I haven’t tried the new instance yet. I’m glad there is one, and I’m sure I’ll get there if it ever comes up as the heroic daily. Because of the reward structure, I try to do the heroic daily whenever I’m on (which is….not that often). I don’t want to be the absolute last person in my raid to buy a tier piece (though truth to tell, I’m in competition for that bottom spot). The thing is, Blizzard de-incentivized their 5-mans during Wrath. Naxx 10 was very easy and accessible compared to the heroics. However, its design was ugly as mud. Meanwhile, the art design for 5-mans was excellent. Most of us saw this beautiful dungeon art only a few times due to the lackluster rewards compared to Naxx. From all reports, the new 5-man is pretty easy, so it’s no Magister’s Terrace. I found Magister’s Terrace to be both challenging and beautiful, and I ran it with all three of my characters (one in tier 6, and two in…crafted purples and Kara gear). I think that Blizzard has–to their own detriment–gone away from the older design of heroics, which allowed some to be much harder than others. I find the hardest Wrath heroic to be Oculus–and I managed to complete that one the day I turned 80.
Rewards and Other Phat Loot
Developers be praised, we’ve got another armor tier to acquire! I love gear. I’m glad that the stats for the three iterations of Tier 9 are actually an upgrade on Ulduar gear. My greatest disappointment with Ulduar (which I love on all other points, including art and gameplay) is that the stats on the gear were such small upgrades from Naxx stuff that I actually didn’t get to see my character improve in noticeable ways even after equipping my new pieces. The only real performance upgrade that I was able to feel was the 4 pc bonus–which for resto druids is widely considered OP. This new patch is just the opposite–I can tell that at least the middle and upper varieties of T9 are going to make a difference in my power and sustainability. I’m jazzed about that. It’s too bad the armor designs themselves are, well, lazy. Many people have commented on this, but suffice it to say, in a few months of work and struggle, Syd is going to go from a gorgeous, glowing creature whose attire includes motifs of branches, leaves, moonlight, and starlight to, well, a Buckethead. Morever, we’re all going to be Bucketheads. I refer you back to the article header should you have any question as to what one’s head looks like when a bucket is equipped in that slot.
Well, let’s say that I can ignore the ugliness of the “new” armor art. There are still many non-gear rewards to be gained in 3.2. The one thing I actually care about, the Ulduar drake that I’ve been working for, is still available (thanks!). It will take a lot of hard raiding to get there–my guild, for one, is not anywhere near done with Ulduar hard modes. There are also new horsies from the Coliseum, mounts upon mounts from Champion’s Seals, more cute pets (even a wyrmling of a different color–who cares, but thanks), and even more tabards (that look pretty much like the old tabards). The game seems to be focused on acquiring volumes of things right now. It’s not “let me get this one beautiful unique mount” but “let me grind for 10 mounts so I can add to my achievements.” I have to say, I’m not too excited about all of it, because too many things seem to be reskins of the same old stuff. My preferred mount grinds are Winterspring Frostsaber (the only kitty with no armor), which I’ve done on one character and started on another, and the Stratholme speed run for Rivendare’s horsie, which I’ve put a few tries into on Syd and ultimately intend to acquire.
How could WoW have hooked me into grinding for new rewards? Well, they could have made them…really new. Let me grind for a raptor mount, and let the horde grind for a Winterspring Frostsaber. That would be pretty sweet. Let me buy the horde mounts for Champion’s Seals. Better yet, make me an entirely new mount–how about a rideable Jormungar? I guarantee you, my play time would have gone up! The new orphan quest is an example of a “good” reward. The gorloc and wolvar pets are pretty unique, and I stayed up an hour later than usual to get my cute little baby oracle.
No More Lazy Design!
The take-home message here is that developers need to spend time and resources on their game. Period. No game is so good that a patch can bring out more of the same and expect to reinvigorate the masses. I think the art budget in particular for WoW needs to go up exponentially.
What is the one thing that I love in patch 3.2? New druid forms! They’re really quite nice (and no, I was not one of the people who complained that they weren’t done right). In my mind, Pink Kitty is pretty much the best thing ever, and I even changed my much-beloved seafoam hair in order to gain access to it. The druid forms are a good example of what happens when you give the community something they’ve asked for and actually spend a little time on it. You get Syd, happily running around in cat form, which has pretty much never happened before. I can has cheezburger naow?
Here’s hoping that the devs announce something astounding at Blizzcon. Something must be done to make up for the overwhelming mediocrity of 3.2…unless, they really do want us to run out and buy Aion come September.