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Thursday, February 28, 2013

You can't go home (to World of Warcraft) again

You can't go home (to World of Warcraft) again

I've had a very long history with World of Warcraft. Long as in "beta of vanilla (base game) WoW" long, which is something like 9 years at this point. That's a long time to be involved with anything, especially a video game. As the title gives away, I haven't been with the game the entire time. I've taken sabbaticals that range from 3 months to a year as I've gotten bored with the game, and I've returned as new content was released or as a new group of friends discovered the game.

The freshness of a new continent to explore, new enemies to slay, and quests to do, or experiencing the game for the first time again through friends' eyes has always swept me up with great enthusiasm. "Why did I ever leave, again?" I'd ask myself basically every time I returned. Blizzard has thoroughly encouraged this pattern as they do drastically enhance many parts of the game every time I return and the changes are so well done that you quickly forget that it wasn't always this way. It's very easy for your glasses to subtly tinge rose.

So what's different this time? That's the question that I keep asking myself after returning for the new expansion, Mists of Pandaria. In truth, I have a couple of very good friends that I will buy games just to play with them, and Blizzard ran an excellent promotion selling the digital version of the newest expansion for $20 (half of it's normal $40 sticker), so I buckled. I've always quickly found renewed joy in the game, I was sure it was just a matter of time before I found it this time as well.

A week in, I feel the same as when I started (a range of meh to ugh), and I can't exactly tell why. Have I just quested too much? I have been doing them for nearly a decade, and a kill X things quest never really changes no matter how you dress it up. The problem is that in other games like Borderlands 2 and Path of Exile I do the exact same thing but don't seem to mind. 

Perhaps it's that the quests are what drive you to explore, and Guild Wars 2 has ruined me by its reversing of the formula, causing you to go out and explore for the quests, making them feel much more organic? Given that I stopped playing GW 2 a couple of months in, the change doesn't seem to have been significant enough to keep my attention for long (although my playing GW 2 was ambushed by an amazing Q4 lineup of games coming out). 

I think gamestyle fatigue has a significant part to do with it, a conglomeration of "I've done all of this before, several times over." In a lot of ways, Blizzard simply can't fight this in the same game, you can only change a game so much before it doesn't feel like the same game, but they've done an amazing job extending the life of the game, and it's certainly still the 900 pound gorilla of MMO's that no one has even come close to touching, let alone toppling. When you have a BioWare-made Star Wars MMO that went for the jugular and missed, it's hard to imagine what could get the job done.

There's some other factor that keeps bothering me though, and it's taken me a while to figure out what it is. I think I have discovered it, though: I've slowly come to realize that it bugs me how easy the game is. I am  currently taking my Death Knight character through the 5 levels needed to hit the new level 90 cap, and the Death Knight is still easily one of the most complicated classes to play. Yet it still feels like I'm coasting through the game, just clicking the buttons at the right time with no real challenge, which is absolutely deadly for keeping your game interesting.

The max level gameplay in WoW (raiding, for example) is always drastically different from the rest of the game, and has always been the portion I enjoyed the most as it is challenging and requires coordination like nothing else in the game. I'm basically betting that I'm being bored right now to be rewarded with the real challenge of the end game with friends, and here's hoping that's true, because I'm dreading logging back on to do the same quests or the same dungeons until I can reach the content I actually want to do. Such is the power of friends that I will drag myself through to reach the end goal.

I will shortly find out whether you really can go home again (since I'm half the way to 89), but so far that old adage is proving true, once again. 

....Or maybe you can?

While I haven't had nearly the storied history with it, I've been drawn back in to a genre of games called Massively Online Battle Arenas, or MOBAs for short. Only basically everyone hates that name, so we'll just call them DOTA-clones. DOTA was a mod for Warcraft 3 that grew to be possibly as popular or more popular than the original game. Just like Counter-Strike was a mod people bought Half-Life for, so was DOTA for Warcraft 3.

A quick history lesson for those who are not familiar, Warcraft 3 was a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game but it added to the genre by introducing Hero units. These units weren't like anything else seen in other games, added a light RPG aspect, and had a huge impact to how the game felt and played. Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) was a modification that identified the heroes as the most interesting component of the game, and so was focused on a 5v5 game where everyone controlled a hero and the units were all automated, but the point of destroying your opponent's base (Ancient) remained the same.

Despite being a big fan of Warcraft 3, my first introduction to DOTA and its clones came when a number of friends started to play League of Legends. We had some good times, but I quickly grew tired of LoL. Once again I'm not quite sure why, but it just didn't click with me, although with the huge popularity of the game today I appear to be one of the few that feel that way.

Recently, I've been watching YouTuber TotalBiscuit's TotalHalibut channel, which has been featuring his Hyper-incompetent Single Draft Disaster series, which are basically him playing and being terrible at DOTA 2. It's been a year or so since I last played LoL at all, so I was intrigued by how much of the game I recognized yet how much was also entirely different. One of his most recent videos happened to be fellow YouTuber Purge from the PurgeGamers channel playing with him and teaching him how to suck less (seen below). I was immediately entranced and headed over at once to Purge's channel.

I've played less than a dozen matches of DOTA 2, but I can't stop watching Purge's videos. There's a very high skill and knowledge curve, and my brain is attempting to absorb everything that it can. It seems that this challenge is exactly what I've been craving, and helped to highlight my problem with WoW, the seemingly complete lack of needed skill, and I had a similar problem with LoL though the free to play model didn't help. I don't blame Blizzard, I'm not angry, it just isn't catching like DOTA 2 is for me.

But you know what, with cinematics like the one below (for the upcoming Starcraft: Heart of the Swarm), Blizzard could stop making games to make movies instead and I'd be happy.

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