10 Nov 2010

The Lament of Lost Adventures

Buried in both Greek and Roman mythology is the tale of a lone hero facing impossible odds in order to complete twelve incredible tasks. The tale of the Labours of Hercules is of truly epic proportions, describing how a single man is battered by fate and fortune, toiling to redeem himself only to be struck down. It’s a raw and deep story that’s much more than any TV series or animated movie could hope to achieve.

Such fantasy tales have been around for thousands of years. Our culture and history is filled with great people achieving great things on behalf of other people. It’s why it makes such a rich seam for game developers to dig into – there’s a vast amount of scenarios and encounters just waiting to be retooled.

While the questing back in the Vanilla days of Warcraft had some truly memorable trials, I’m beginning to feel that a subtle shift has occurred. Tales seem to be less about the journey they take you on, instead focusing on a series of moments. Tasks seem to be less Herculean and more run-of-the-mill, as if it’s something that’s expected instead of something monumental. In order to explain further, cast your mind back five years to the earliest days of the game.

One of the most memorable questlines from the origins of Warcraft was The Great Masquerade. Both revered and reviled in equal measure, the quest started off innocently enough in the Blasted Lands before slowly revealing a deep political intrigue. The story continued through the Blasted Lands, Blackrock Depths, Stormwind, Blackrock Spire and concluded at Winterspring, making it a journey that would take weeks or months to complete. It even paused partway through, with A Crumpled Up Note being the only clue that the chain continued.

For the determined raider, completing The Great Masquerade was a must. The prize at the end was the Drakefire Amulet – the only way of gaining access to Onyxia’s Lair. At the time the raid instance was one of only two available in the game (the other being Molten Core, again with an attunement quest). At the advent of Wrath in patch 3.0.2, the attunement requirement and questline was removed. Although the instance was revamped later in the expansion, the epic journey to enter the Lair was never replaced.

Another equally arduous task was the way of upgrading armour to Dungeon Set 2. Introduced shortly before the arrival of Naxxaramas as a 40-man raid instance, the long questline provided players who were unable to raid with a way of improving some of their gear. The route to this new armour set was incredibly complex, involving a large amount of gold and having to defeat some unique creatures.

Nowadays, gear upgrade quests have been pushed aside in favour of using badges, emblems or even points as currency that players can earn and spend on a selection of items. While this is simpler to manage and easier to set up, it also means that content becomes worn out as we churn through it again and again simply to collect points. It’s unsurprising that content boredom is a common complaint.

Arguably the most prominent questline in Wrath is the Wrathgate. Although short by comparison with quest chains in Vanilla, this one is punctuated with rich encounters and concludes with an in-game cutscene. As a player, this feels somewhat at odds to me – I feel that for a fairly small investment I’m rewarded with a fanfare and trumpets. I haven’t done anything that’s truly epic – I haven’t earned the reward.

While Blizzard’s storytelling has definitely evolved, it’s not all been in the same direction. We can now see the impact we have on the world through phasing, but the trick is used to mark the passing of time as much as it’s an indicator of what I’ve achieved. I have a real concern that “removing the suck” in further development might put an end to these questlines altogether.

It’s easy for me to look back on the early days of Warcraft with rose-tinted goggles, especially considering how much of a chore these things can be to complete when they’re more of a time sink than a challenge. I guess that while adventurers just need to travel to have an adventure, I think heroes need to perform heroic acts. And while heroic acts are fine in isolation, legendary stories are more than just a collection of heroic moments.

Image of Hercules fighting the Lernaean Hydra, circa 525 BC. Currently at Getty Villa.

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10 Responses to The Lament of Lost Adventures

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention New Mana Obscura Blogpost: The Lament of Lost Adventures -- Topsy.com

  2. Bordy says:

    I know what you mean. I too look back with fondness on the chain to gain access to Onyxia’s Lair. Back then, raids were bigger, challenges were longer, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were *real* furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

    Of course things have changed. We no longer do 40-man raids for starters. How we ever managed to co-ordinate those (just to get a balanced party to turn up) amazes me now. Life has changed. Technology has changed. People wants things *now*, and are not prepared to wait. Few like the grind without significant return. Cataclysm will bring more flight paths and more localised questing. All to reduce the running/riding all over the place between the rewards.

    The Onyxia questline took us all over, as did some other quests. I feel though that helped some to see parts of Azeroth they had otherwise missed/avoided. Shouldn’t we thank the developers for encouraging us to see all the richness of the beautiful world they had spent so much time building?

    I may not be alone in thinking that I felt superfluous in the re-taking of Undercity as part of Wrathgate. The same is also true of my feelings when I took part in the re-taking of Gnomeregan surface or the Echo Isles.

    I think though that some WOTLK quest lines have been great. The Vyrkul quests in Howling Fjord become increasingly heroic as do those in Icecrown. Having recently achieved ‘Loremaster’ (ah .. smug mode) I felt that that was an incredible journey re-discovering some great quest lines I had previously avoided.

    The lore and the challenge is out there, but I think it has moved. There are the shorter, epic-tagged ones like Wrathgate (to please the *now* crowd), but more questing is linked together and plots only reveal themselves later as strands come together. That to me is the stuff of heroes, becoming and feeling part of an evolving story.

  3. Rivs says:

    I would like to see one epic 40 man raid. I think that would be awesome.

    I think over the past five years WoW has morphed into a challenging game, to something more akin to Farmville. Not saying I’m still not enjoying WoW because I am. It’s just the difficulty has definately gone down.

    On one hand the old, nostalgic me laments, on the other it might breath new life into the game, and bring fresh blood.
    Rivs recently posted..Happy Veteran’s DayMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      40 man raids were a mixed bag.

      On the one hand, they felt truly epic with so many people involved.

      On the other hand, they were a sod to organise. Because they were so big, only a few groups existed on each server. It also meant that not everyone needed to pull their weight – follow AFKs were common on all but endgame raids.

  4. Cavis says:

    “I think over the past five years WoW has morphed into a challenging game, to something more akin to Farmville. Not saying I’m still not enjoying WoW because I am. It’s just the difficulty has definately gone down. ”

    I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. Difficulty in WoW has it’s ups (heroic TBC instances, Sunwell before 4.0) and it’s downs but overall complexity of the game is on higher level than it was ever on Vanilla.

    What people seem to forget over such a long stretch of time is how tedious and unrewarding things were in Vanilla. You remember AQ40 being hard or even unbeatable, but part of that problem wasn’t strategy, it was gearing. We had to go to lvl 45 instance (Maraudon) to gear Nature resistance gear to beat Huhuran. Strategy was simple – gather enough melee, spread around the rest of raid, heal through damage and kill her. Execution was hard because gear was a problem. Once you gathered enough good gear on earlier bosses – it was pretty straightforward fight. Now if you compare it to some Icecrown fights – gearing is much less of the problem, but execution and complexity of the fight is on much much higher level. So hard mode Sindragosa (not even to mention Lich King himself) is way harder then anything I’ve encountered in Vanilla.

    The same actually goes to quest lines. I would probably forgot about Onyxia questline long time ago if not for one thing. I had to repeat this questline with my every character to be able to go to Onyxia. What’s more, I had also to complete this questline for dozens of characters/alts in our guild. This was the worst thing to hear around: “anyone for jailbreak?”. We hated it.
    In the meantime both in TBC and in WotLK storytelling went way much better then in Vanilla. Just to remind you most interesting quest lines:
    TBC – Ashtongue questline – the one that opened Black Temple for you and continued till Akama recovering his soul. And later story finished with Illidan dead.
    TBC – Cipher of Damnation questline – with 3 sons of an old ork whom you helped, with Gul’dan’s treachery and breaking Draenor. Epic.
    WotLK – Thorim/Loken questline – the one that starts with helping goblins and ends with killing Loken with reforging Thorim/Sons of Hodir alliance
    WotLK – Brann Bronzebeard chain where you help him get to Ulduar and find his long lost brother, ends with all 3 brothers – Magni, Brann and Muradin meeting together.
    WotLK – Guru of Drakuru – both sides of the story with betraying and being betrayed.

    They are not so tedious as damn jailbreak, they are great pieces of storytelling, they were very exiting to follow and watch. You just don’t HAVE to repeat them with each of your characters.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think that’s again illustrating the shift in the way storytelling happens. Instead of having long quest chains, you tend to have reccuring characters that pop up in several locations (Thelassian, Drakuru, Loken etc). While these are great, they just don’t feel as epic to me.

      Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just looking back on four year old memories with rose coloured glasses. But sometimes it’d be nice to get an incredible reward for completing something tough, instead of just ebing handed it when you had enough points.

  5. Cavis says:

    One more thing I forgot to add.
    People seem to mistake “accessible” with “easy”. In WotLK some content was indeed made way too easy – Naxxramas as first raid or Heroics. Not to mention heroics were made obligatory for raiders (you HAD to make a daily quest for those Frosts) which also helped to make issue more obvious. But don’t really kid yourself – Vanilla 5-man instances were at least as easy as heroics these days, we just didn’t really had to do so many of them so late in the development phase.
    But most of the content in WotLK is just accessible for people. It’s not easy.
    Ulduar – a lot of complex fights, but doable on normal mode. It’s hard mode that brought challenge. Firefighter anyone? Not so many people able to complete Alone in the Night even overgearing it now.
    Icecrown – the same. Easy mode (err.. I mean normal mode) is easy for general public. Hard mode is for all who look for challenge and want best rewards. Complexity of LK, Sindragosa or Putricide on hard mode is much bigger then most of the encounters in previous expansions.

    And last one thing. Please remember that people who compare Vanilla to WotLK are usually people who play this game for 4-5 YEARS!!!! We are experts at this game, we know our classes inside-out and we’ve seen tons of different encounters. You know how we were discribing some encounters already in TBC? “It’s like BWL XYZ boss with this and that changed”. No wonder those encounters seem to be easier as we already know those tricks.

    • Gazimoff says:

      You make a good point – because we’ve been playing the game for five years or so, we’re likely to become fairly skilled at it. It’s probably a challenge for Blizzard to make something that’s difficult for veterans of the game without completely overwhelming newcomers as well.

      I reckon though that there’s a difference between something that’s easy and something that’s boring. A hard raid thats not interesting (ToC hardmodes for example) can become boring quickly, while something that’s interesting but easy (Ulduar) can hold people much longer.

  6. Runzwithfire says:

    I have to agree with Cavis, it is easy to confuse accessible with easy – Blizzard has worked hard to make the end game more accessible for everyone and let’s be fair it seems to be working cos they’ve recently broken the 12 million subscribers mark. The point made about those playing for 4-5 years plus (I’m on the 3 year mark XD) is also a very good one.

    Although I wasn’t a Vanilla player, I did go through through those older questlines because I felt I had to to really experience some of the stuff I missed in Vanilla – I’m sad to have seen some of those truly epic questlines and challenges fade into the annals of WoW history. In fact I’m sad to see some of the quests like the warrior getting his lvl 40 weapon disappear too but these epic quests probably shouldn’t be requirements for attunement to raids because it does limit the accessibility and really everyone should be able to enjoy end game without having to wait months to finish a questline to get in a raid.

    Maybe the way is to provide epic questlines but make sure they are optional ie. something you do for a challenge which will gift you an exclusive item for your toils (maybe similar to the dungeon set 2 gear only a little less arduous) – that way those epic moments are there but not having done them doesn’t exclude you from large parts of the game.

    • Fobok says:

      The trick there is that if the equipment is BiS, it’ll be seen as mandatory (until the next raid/PVP tier comes along), and if it’s not people won’t feel as rewarded for their effort, since at least many of the hardcore players will be looking to improve on it.

      Of course, it may fill the same niche as the broken hilt, and give more casual players (like me, thus my blog’s name) a goal to strive for. (I’d prefer it if the difficulty would be more around completing the quest and less RNG. I still have yet to win the roll for one of those hilts, not that it really matters as much anymore.) I wouldn’t mind a long, difficult epic quest to get something like that.
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