Cataclysm

Last week I purchased a couple more MMO soundtracks to add to my miniscule (but growing) collection. The first was Blade & Soul which was a no brainer, I’ve loved the music as I’ve been playing through the game. As the second I wanted to purchase one of the World of Warcraft albums but choosing where to start was at first difficult. However after listening through bits and pieces of each I knew right away I wanted to start with the Cataclysm soundtrack because for me, that will always be when WoW was home.

I started playing World of Warcraft during the Firelands patch of the Cataclysm expansion although at the time I didn’t even know what a patch was. It was months before I even reached Hyjal and took my first steps into the “new” expansion and by then Dragon Soul had already been released. The first character I leveled to 85 was a Blood Death Knight and shortly thereafter I tanked my first hard mode dungeon, my first LFR raid, my first normal difficulty raid, and ultimately found my home with the guild “Escape from Reality.” I know for many people this expansion represents a turning point for WoW and not for the better but even now I would happily play on a Cata era server.

While I really enjoyed the expansion’s leveling zones (especially Uldum!) the end game is what I remember enjoying the most. Some of its little stuff, like when I finally had blacksmithing and jewelcrafting maxed on my Death Knight so that I could have the extra gem slots and the special jewelcrafter gems. Or the fact that I could gain valor by either running one dungeon a day all week, or I could chain run them all at once in one night. Or having to actually use crowd control for some of the hard mode dungeons; I felt like a boss using “Bind Elemental” or whatever it was called on my Shaman.

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My guild, Escape From Reality after a Dragon Soul kill. I’m the Night Elf DK behind the Worgen bear’s butt.

 

Others are more significant, like the way the Blood Death Knight played as a class during Cataclysm compared to the two recent expansions. Playing a Blood DK well was very meaningful to me then because it was such a challenge. If you knew how to use all of your many cool downs and also how to game death strike and death runes to have big heals and blood shields you could survive nearly anything. I remember fighting Archbishop Benedictus once without a healer because he had been locked out of the fight before it began. I had to use everything in my toolkit to survive but we did it. Or another time during the Well of Eternity when everyone but me died on the first boss, Peroth’arn, and I managed to stay alive and kill him by myself. Those and many others were the moments that made me love tanking; moments that I don’t think were ever repeated during Mists or Warlords.

When I listen to “The Shattering” or “Curse of the Worgen” those are the things I remember and that’s why I chose the Cataclysm soundtrack over the others. It bothers me when other people put it down as one of the worst things to happen to WoW when for me it was one of the best but that doesn’t change my appreciation of it. While I don’t foresee it ever happening, were WoW ever to return to that “golden age” of Warcraft, it will be happy indeed for me and the ten other members of the Cataclysm fan club.

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Dual Wielding: Negativity in the MMO Community

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

(Be sure to check out Mersault’s take on the subject as well.)

There has been a number of blog posts written lately regarding negativity in the MMO community, and amongst bloggers specifically. I’ve read a few of these posts and from what I gather the concern is that the growing number dissatisfied players publically sharing their pessimism about the genre is either a sign of the end times or the cause of it. While there may be greater attention on this problem right now it’s nothing new; for as long as I’ve been reading MMO forums and blogs there have been complaints, dissatisfaction, pessimism, and open threats. There is of course the question as to whether it is escalating or not but honestly I couldn’t say. Quantifying negativity over time sounds like a dubious endeavor and so while I’m tempted to say yes, it is getting worse by a few degrees, I can’t say for certain whether I think that because it is, or if I’m simply noticing it more because it has become the topic de jour.

So what are some of the common arguments amongst those unhappy with the state and direction of the genre? I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but here are a few of the most common:

  1. The motives of publishers when developing their business models (F2P, early access, etc.)
  2. The competence of developers to produce a quality game experience consistently.
  3. The direction the genre is moving—from sandbox to theme park, from hardcore to casual, from group dependent to soloable content, from social multiplayer to selfish singleplayer—pick your own poison.

Are they wrong about all of these concerns? Or is this all legitimate criticism of the genre and those behind it? I think it’s clear that to some degree whether or not you find any of these things disconcerting depends on what type of gameplay you prefer and which MMO(s) you are evaluating. Publishers and developers need to make money but the line between sustainable income and greed can be hard to define objectively; the quality of a product might have as much to do with creator competence as it does with the resources available to said developers. As for the direction of the genre, whether the changes that have already occurred are a gain or loss will likely be determined by those iterations that are yet to come.

If you were to say that’s a flimsy, non-committal answer you’d be right and that’s my point. That negativity exists is certain; whether or not it’s justified can only be determined in hindsight. The systems involved are simply too complicated and the available data too incomplete for the average blogger or forum goer to predict the success or failure of an entire genre. Especially when these voices are often few in comparison to the silent masses happily playing the games available on the market, completely ignorant of the warring words among those most engaged with individual games and the genre as a whole.

Or are they? That’s another question I’m not sure how to quantify; I know that negativity exists within the MMO community because it is being voiced regularly in blogs, on reddit, and on forums but what I don’t know is what percentage of the overall player base actually pays attention to these sources. I certainly do, but I think at this point I’m clearly a member of this “inner circle” of MMO players and so are most of the people I interact with who play MMOs. Outside of this community that is paying close attention to new releases and the changes being made to older titles, there may be a great number of MMO players actually enjoying these games with no idea that they are approaching the genre incorrectly.

Personally I envy those players because that kind of ignorance really is bliss. The time I was most satisfied with the MMO scene as a whole was when I was playing World of Warcraft during the Cataclysm expansion. No, that’s not a typo. I was happiest playing an MMO during the expansion that killed the game that killed the genre (or so I’ve been told). The reason? I didn’t know any better. I was playing an MMO for the first time and everything was new and exciting and I wasn’t influence by anything outside my own experience with the game. No one was telling me what the genre was supposed to be, and so I was happy with what I was presented.

There have been two expansions since then and as you might expect, my opinions of those expansions have been quite negative, especially Warlords of Draenor. Ultimately that’s where much of this negativity comes from, not because the changes happening are bad, but that there is change at all. I actually long for the days of Cataclysm because in my experience that expansion was good, it was exactly what an MMO was supposed to be. Is it any surprise that someone who began playing during vanilla WoW or Everquest or Ultima Online feels exactly the same? Our initial experiences forever influence our expectations and when those expectations are not met, we grow dissatisfied. For those of us who like to be heard, that means we take to the forums or blog.

However if I’m right in that so few MMO players actually read blogs or go to forums, then at least the genre is safe from dying simply because we all complained too much. In fact I think the ongoing evolution of the MMO tells a different story, that as the genre changes with the demands and desires of the marketplace as a whole—perhaps to the point we no longer recognize it as an MMO proper—the player base broadens and the number of people happy with what’s available also increases.

The changes happening within the genre could be an entire blog post of its own—in fact it will be sometime next month—but for now I’ll leave you with a few closing thoughts. If negativity within the MMO community is of concern to you, regardless of how you feel about the businesses developing them or the games themselves, stay away from those forums and blogs that feature only outlooks of doom and gloom. Either surround yourself with others who enjoy the genre and know how to write critically without exhibiting hopelessness or stop reading blogs and forums about MMOs all together. Just find the games you like and play them with the people you like. You won’t eliminate the presence of negativity within the community but you will remove its influence on your enjoyment of the games that brought us all together in the first place.

WoW Clones and the Point of Divergence

Labeling an MMO as a “WoW Clone” is generally meant as an insult. Such games were developed to match the features and mechanics of World of Warcraft in order to duplicate its success but in actuality the popularity of WoW has been a singular event in the history of the genre. To some extent the criticism is warranted. Foregoing creativity and risk in hopes of making a quick buck is hardly a development tactic to be applauded however two of these games have been in continued development for 3-4 years and warrant a second look. Both Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic began by closely approximating the gameplay of WoW but since their launch have diverged along their own path offering players a “WoW that was” or a “WoW as it could have been”.

As someone who enjoyed World of Warcraft for several years, I am biased toward games of similar mechanics and feature lists. I enjoy storytelling on rails, instanced group play, and traditional combat but I haven’t always agreed with the development decisions Blizzard has made over the last 12-18 months or the features they have neglected to improve in favor of others. Garrisons for example are an interesting addition but the transmogrification system is grossly outdated. At a time when nearly every other MMO is improving cosmetic customization for player gear this is a significant oversight. And so I find myself enjoying the type of MMO WoW represents but not the game itself in its current state.

However when I take a look at both Rift and SWTOR I see games similar to WoW that have developed along very different paths. Looking at their evolution over the last 3-4 years is like catching a glimpse of two possible alternatives to the current iteration of WoW, a multi-verse of MMO development as it were. Each game features many similarities to the MMO they were developed to mimic but since their creation both games have changed systems, mechanics, and feature lists independent of WoW’s own development cycle.

Consider talent trees for example. In early 2012 all of these games featured three branching skill trees for each class and a pool of skill points for players to use in order to customize their characters. From the beginning Rift brought an interesting twist to this system by allowing each class to choose three options from a broader selection of skill trees called “Souls” and the game continues to maintain this approach. WoW on the other hand has eradicate the branching trees in favor of three talent choices offered every fifteen levels and relative freedom in adjusting those choices on the fly. SWTOR held out on traditional talent trees up until the end of last year at which point Bioware adopted a talent system of their own featuring three tiers of seven choices of which players could choose seven total across all tiers by level 60. There are limitations in place that prevent overpowered combinations (like players choosing all seven in the highest tier) but overall the system offers more choices than the one in WoW.

Did you prefer the branching skill trees that World of Warcraft offered prior to the launch of Mists of Pandaria? Rift provides you with that choice and from the start has doubled down on the character building freedom that the system offers. Or have you liked the stream lined talent choices MoP introduced but wish for a little more flexibility in choice amongst the tiers? Then you may want to try SWTOR’s implementation of talents in their discipline paths. The point is not that one design choice is inherently superior to the others, but rather that for those of us who enjoy the MMO model presented by Blizzard in World of Warcraft, we now have alternatives with slight variations. Sure Rift, SWTOR, and many other titles may have been clones of WoW at their point of launch but since then they have developed independently. For my preferences these two games offer features and mechanics that I enjoy more than those present in their parent MMO. If you enjoy World of Warcraft but haven’t sampled either of these “clones” in the last two years I’d highly recommend you do so. They may have been replicas at the start, but since that point of divergence both Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic have matured into MMOs reminiscent of World of Warcraft but refreshingly distinct.