Monday, December 6, 2010

One Of Us One Of Us

To my vague horror, the past two weeks have been spent playing almost nothing but World of Warcraft. Sure, some Rock Band 3 has been consumed for IRL social-interaction, but for the most part, I've been questing my way through the world of Azeroth.

The thing that frustrates me is that I'm not really sure why I feel compelled to play. I do enjoy the exploration of each zone, uncovering and filling in the map. The art style is wonderful (though I do wish the game looked like the glittering cinematics produced for each expansion). An amazing mix of pathos and humor runs throughout the game's quests and characters. At the same time, the basic combat mechanics are incredibly boring at low levels while fighting random monsters running through the wilderness. The crafting and gathering professions are a grind with no intrinsic depth to them. The only times the game has truly shined for me have been the rare occasions I've tackled bosses with a few other players. It feels to me as if this is the true way to play so that you can see how the different classes, abilities, and even races interact with one another. Everyone has a role to play, there are specific actions to take at specific times, and the rush of collectively bringing down an elite monster is undeniable.

Unfortunately, most of the time I play it as a gigantic single player RPG that happens to have a few other players running through it. It's almost like playing Fable 2 with the online player orbs turned on, except you can see the actual characters. While the updates in the Cataclysm expansion made some zones of the game feel incredibly dynamic and even, occasionally, made me feel like I was actually participating in an epic adventure, many of the other zones are the same old pointless grind with nothing holding it together. Several story threads seem to drop off with the local guy in charge saying, "It'll be awhile before we'll be ready to tackle this big bad guy. We'll call you later." What this seems to mean is, "There will be a high level raid dungeon for you to enter in 40 levels." While the flow of quests and the paths you take seem smoother and less meandering than in the past, there are still dozens of "kill X number of Y monsters to collect Z organs" quests. With all the talk of lessons learned in the past six years of WoW's existence, it's astonishing that so many of these quests still exist. While one or two in the beginning of a zone can function as introductions to the types of enemies you'll be facing in the area and unlocking the first few areas of the zone, there has got to be a better way to consistently keep a player engaged.

The problem is that this is still something that seems to work. 12 million subscribers are playing the game, and I'm one of them. I'm supposed to be playing Persona 3 and Epic Mickey and working on my gargantuan backlog of games, yet I have a list of quests in Booty Bay a part of me feels compelled to work on. There are always more quests to do. Is that all it takes for me? Give me a never-ending to-do list and I'll happily march to your tune until the end of time? I haven't participated in any guilds. The two times I tried playing in random dungeons through matchmaking were somewhat horrible experiences. I've ignored the majority of the game's social aspects.

There are two games I've consciously made a choice to stop playing because they were too addicting. One was Civilization Revolutions, and the other Rome: Total War. Both feature the well known "one-more-turn" hook to keep you playing well into the night. WoW seems similar in that I find myself saying "one more quest" quite frequently. It seems pathetic that this is all that's keeping me playing, but I seem unable to figure out what else it could be. The loot grind isn't nearly as compelling as in Diablo. It seems I'm a slave to my to-do list. Maybe I need to do a better job of creating one for my real world problems, and thus solve my procrastination issues forever. Surely it can't be that simple?


Hobs said... is good for tracking your stuff.

Fred Zeleny said...

This is exactly why it took me about four years of subscribing, playing, getting bored, and unsubscribing to finally get to the top level.

And yet, the top level is where the game truly shines. It seems like there's as much content for the top-level players as there is for every other level combined. Once I was there, and almost all of my gameplay was spent in groups, doing heroic dungeons and raids, and having an amazingly fun time. Mechanics were deep, combat was satisfying, and skill mattered - but not as much as teamwork. It's a whole different game, and one I love.

It's just that I had to go through this excruciatingly dull leveling process to get there.

But as I looked back over those levels, I realized they were doing a good job of sneakily teaching me how to play the "real" game. All those random combats taught the basics of how to my class's powers. The quests set up situations where different abilities shined. The dungeons forced me to learn how to use those abilities in concert with a team. And finally, the raids (or pvp battlegrounds) pull all of those lessons together. You have to internalize a lot of skills to really play the high-end game, and that takes a lot of teaching.

I can't blame you for hating the leveling. They've constantly been increasing the speed at which characters level, and I still think it's far too slow. If I had to face leveling up a new character, I think I'd be as likely to quit outright - I don't understand how some people enjoy leveling alternate characters.

But I can see how some of the low-level, basic stuff was necessary training for the "real" game.

Unknown said...

@Fred There are two guys I work with who are long-time WoW players. One plays similarly to you, almost exclusively sticking to the high level raids and dungeons. He spends a considerable amount of time digging into the strategies required for his class and how he plays with others in that end-game content.

The other is more casual in the sense that he doesn't do very many dungeons, but he spends an awful lot of time working the auction houses and manipulating the economy for his own gain. He finds that as interesting and satisfying as the high level raids are for the other guy.

It just bugs me that the presentation of the game is somehow enough to make me feel compelled to play at this point in the game rather than a mechanic or system. I suppose I should try the dungeons for my level more, but my only option right now is with random people, which isn't the casual, low-stress environment I would prefer. I may end up sucking it up and doing it anyway.

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