This is an open letter to Blizzard containing some of my thoughts and my feelings about a game of theirs I played for some 6 years. I don’t expect anyone to read it, but in case they do, understand that these are only my specific desires, wishes, or opinions. You don’t have to agree. Some whining may be present ahead, so read at your own risk.
Also, I’ve yet to proof-read this nonsense. I hammered it out late this evening, but I’m too tired to continue and want to go to bed. I’ll re-read it sometime in the coming day or two. I just wanted to publish this for review.
I’m not a paying subscriber of yours, and I haven’t been for nearly 5 years. I used to be, all those years ago, and payed for a World of Warcraft subscription for a good chunk of the 6 years I played (minus a month or two break here and there). I quit mostly because of the changes introduced in Cataclysm, and mostly because I had other things consuming a majority of my time. Actually, if I were to be completely honest, I was mostly distressed with the changes to the old world made in Cataclysm. I understand why they were made (outmoded content), but it doesn’t mean I have to like them.
Frankly, I miss that old content. Maybe that’s a stupid thing to miss, but I do. And I think I know why.
You see, in this day and age of perpetual push-updates for everything (your browser, your phone software, your games), there’s almost nothing that stays static for long. Everything is in a state of flux. Tons of MMOs have succumbed to this progression-at-all-costs mindset, and for the longest time, I would argue that WoW was immune to it. Content was added as entirely new zones for the better part of two expansions (and Cataclysm to an extent). Sure, the game mechanics changed and grew more complex over time (maybe that was a bad thing?) as talent points increased, spells became more numerous, and the developers struggled to find ways to make use of all the new cruft they added with each release. But by and large, the Old World remained constant–a static reminder of the immutable nature of the old WoW. It illustrated to me that WoW would always be there–unchanged, unphased by competition, and unwavering in its appeal.
Cataclysm changed that.
I eventually played it about a year after its release, and while some of the changes were welcome (simplified talents, removed or deprecated spell sets merged together), the absolute devastation of the Old World ruined it for me. I realize it had to be done–things change, of course–and it would be difficult to have included Deathwing in any part of the story without such destruction. Though, I think at least part of the underwhelming nature of Cataclysm was due in part to the defeat of Arthas. Another dragon trying to destroy the world? Color me surprised.
While I’m not a loremonger–I seldom get interested in the story lines of video games, and I normally abhor the fantasy genre (science fiction is where it’s at!)–I think that even to someone like me, the build up of Arthas as the series final antagonist was perhaps the inevitable failure of the franchise once his demise was certain. Sure, there were minor distractions in the interim (think Burning Crusade), but the festering evil of the Plaguelands was ever-present in the minds of all the early players. We knew what was there. We spent hours–days, in fact–farming in these zones, running Stratholme and Scholomance before the larger raids saw the light of day. Those were the bread and butter of our nighttime entertainment. The Lich King was, at the time, an unseen villain whose influence surrounded us and ate into our very being.
Then we killed him.
With Arthas dead, the not-so-surprising ending of “There must always be… a Lich King,” and the inability to eliminate the Scourge entirely underfoot, there wasn’t really anywhere else for WoW to go. So you added Deathwing. Great. He, like Onyxia, were just distractions to what many of us felt were the main thrust of the WoW storyline, and in many cases we were somewhat disappointed that other avenues weren’t taken (Emerald Dream anyone?). Instead, Deathwing felt like an excuse to make a reboot of the early starter zones and revamp Azeroth’s oldest content. I’m not wrong.
But I’ll tell you this: There’s a way you can sell me on WoW again. It’s not easy. In fact, I almost hope you don’t do this, because I can’t imagine any way of doing it easily (or cheaply), and there’s always the potential to screw it up such that ex-players like myself will just drown in a sea of disappointment, never to return. Here’s the thing: Remember Caverns of Time?
Yeah, you know where this is going.
See, that’s another thread I never felt was sufficiently explored. You used it to take us back in time, back before the plague, but it probably never crossed your minds for very long that you could use it to win back the older players. All you have to do is this: Give us a way to play the old expansions, the old original content, complete with talents, level caps, and original zones as they were so that we can relive the glory days (so to speak). I have friends who skipped TBC or never played “vanilla” WoW. They wanted to, of course, but by the time they got into it, the level cap was substantially higher and the game was dramatically different. All that content was wasted keeping it around. Sure, you could re-roll a new character, play through it as it was intended (sort of), but the dungeons would never be the same.
Remember Magister’s Terrace? We played that a few times. But then Wrath of the Lich King sort of steamrolled that, and it was swept under the rug, forgotten to history. I even know some guys who played WotLK with us who didn’t even know what it was, yet they remembered most of the dungeons from vanilla. It’s just that they skipped BC, dropping off of the planet for the two years or so that content ran, and then came back. It’s as if Outlands never happened except for getting you through those pesky 10 levels from 60-70.
Yet the astounding thing to me is that much of this was good content. Even better (for you), it’s already paid for to a large extent. Repurposing it shouldn’t cost much in the way of man hours to retweak it, and if you somehow manage to reintegrate the older expansions in a manner that makes the player’s view of game mechanics more or less analogous to the expansions that content was designed for, I can’t imagine it would be that difficult. But hey, what do I know? I don’t write games for a living, either.
Franchises like Guild Wars 2 have you beaten in this area. With the down-leveling for earlier content, even at the level cap (80 as of this writing), and the attribute balance ArenaNet included, it’s difficult to get bored with boss encounters just on the merit that you outleveled them three months prior. All of the Harathi Hinterlands content is still very much playable (and challenging) at level 80. Orr is a perpetual pain in the neck (it is max level content for the most part). And even the old dungeons don’t get any easier.
Yet Guild Wars 2 is missing something WoW had. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s there. It’s like a painting that never really looked quite right until you saw it in the proper lighting. Maybe it was a smudge or a bizarre shade of blue.
But I think where WoW really shined was its social interaction. I made a lot of friends in WoW (that’s where I met my girlfriend, too). I still talk to nearly everyone I talked to whom I met in WoW with few exceptions. I’ve become great friends with them in real life, talking everything from politics to toiletry habits (just kidding). So, shout out to Hunter and Jonathan, two great guys whose friendship I owe thanks to WoW.
The kicker? I’ve played GW2 off and on for a couple of years (or is it 3?). I can’t remember a single damn person I’ve run into in that game. I have a friends’ list that’s pretty full. Yet you know what? Aside from one or two encounters, I’ve never talked with them again. There’s got to be something to it, Blizzard. I don’t know what you guys did, but you had a formula going that was arguably superior to the competition.
Then it went south.
I don’t know what the change was, or why it happened, or even how the “old” WoW was better than the “new” WoW. Two expansions since Cataclysm have come out, and I’ve not played a single one. A few of my friends have, but it held their collective interest for less than a few months before they moved on to other games. Why? I have no idea. The magic vanished, and I don’t know if it can be recovered.
But I guarantee you one thing: If you come up with a way to let me play the old content, more or less as it was intended, I’ll be back. I loved it that much. But it has to be fairly true to the intent of that content, with a few exceptions (getting rid of the absurd requirements of 40 man raids was a good start), and I think some modernization would be useful. Maybe the talent trees really were getting a bit out of hand. Yet… I find that they had a certain charm to them, even still.
Ideally, I’d love to be able to go to the Caverns of Time, pick an expansion, have my character transformed to the level cap that accompanied that expansion, and go get gear true to that period in WoW’s history. Even if those instances of my character(s) were isolated from each other in some manner, I wouldn’t care. It would just be nice to be able to go back to zones like Darkshore before they were destroyed and hang out in Auberdine while watching new players run by again.
I don’t know how that would be possible, if it would be possible, but I think at least part of the charm of WoW was hanging out with some friends in low level zones just to pass the time. Then going off and helping some lowbies with a rough boss or two.
Update September 6th: Some weeks ago, a few friends of mine alerted me to the “timewalker” feature wherein Blizzard will make available old content, specifically old dungeons, as part of a holiday weekend. You’ll be able to obtain era-specific weapon skins, appropriately leveled for capped players, while your effective level is dropped in a manner similar to Guild Wars 2. It’s a good idea, but the fact that it’ll be limited to random dungeons only rather than content, and only on specific weekends is a letdown. I’d love to see something akin to an expansion-specific selection where players would be able to select which expansion they want to partake, or some sort of leveling system similar in nature to what GW2 has implemented.