8 Jun 2014

Warcraft: Skip to Next Track


Back in October 2013, I quit World of Warcraft. After a year or more of playing action-focused MMOs like Guild Wars 2, TERA, and WildStar, Blizzard’s MMO felt slow and dated. I’d developed a taste for a newer, more active style of combat, and felt that a return to hotkey bashing was just boring.

This was actually the third time I’d quit: my first time was partway into Cataclysm, when the long wait for new content coerced me into reconsidering my subscription. I returned for Mists of Pandaria, only to quit again once I hit level cap, after I discovered an endless sea of daily quest grinds waiting for me. My final return was for the Timeless Isle update, where friends tried to persuade me into gearing up and playing again. But, by that time, my opinion had been thoroughly tainted, and I only lasted a few months before cancelling again.

That said, Blizzard always had a way of drawing me back in: freshly baked lore. I’m a sucker for a good story, and I’d come back time after time to explore what each new expansion had to offer. Of course, Warcraft’s monolithic pace of updates meant that other activities needed to fill the void – social, PvP, raiding – anything that could give me a reason to log in night after night. If you look over the history of this blog, I’ve no doubt you’ll find more.

This time, I won’t be going back. For the first time since World of Warcraft was released, the story doesn’t interest me.

When I originally signed on for WoW, I felt that there was an epic storyline unraveling in front of me. It was a tale of heroes, battling against impossible odds against a time-hardened enemy. It was a story of courage, defiance, and spirit. The world Blizzard had created fired the imagination of millions of players, led to the establishment of an amazing blogging collective, and helped me discover many amazing, opinionated people.

Today, Warlords of Draenor comes as a disappointing story update, taking us across lands that we’ve already seen, just at a different point in time. It squanders the attention of the audience, saying “Hey, I know you want to get on with the serious business of Argus, Xoroth and the final defeat of the Burning Legion, but we want to indulge ourselves on a whimsy.” Instead of continuing with the arc that they’ve had in motion for years, WoW’s creative team want to go back in time and find out what happens if one of the most crucial points of history went a different way. It’s a thought experiment made into an expansion, an indulgence of minds that should know better.

This indulgence might be symptomatic of wider issues with the creative team at Blizzard, the result of which is that many former fans feel excluded from a world they grew up with. For me, it offers a story that I’m no longer interested in. My line of Collectors Editions will end with Mists of Pandaria, and might someday resume with future expansions that actually push the story forward. Right now though, it seems like Warcraft is trying to jump the shark.

My gut feel is that Warlords of Draenor is brought about by two merging desires: to delay ‘ending’ the arc while millions of players are still interested in what’s going on, and to explore the already-rich culture that Blizzard has built up around their orcs. The result is an expansion that’s been described to me as “Dudebros of Draenor,” alienating small but significant groups of fans in the process. Not only is it disappointing, but it’s also unnecessary, with other arcs emerging as one ends.

If there’s anything that I hope comes from Warlords of Draenor, it’s that the studio learns from the experience. That it brings in a respect for the players and fans that choose to spend their lives in Azeroth. That a humbler Blizzard emerges, devoid of the aloof arrogance that has been seen of late. That a new dialogue opens up where player concerns are addressed, rather than being dismissed by a corporate machine. These are all core skills that the studio used to be very good at, but which – just like with the story – they seem to have lost their way.

Time will tell if Warcraft manages this – and I have every hope they will – or, like Happy Days, the shark-jumping moment is just the beginning of the end.


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