About Tyler F.M. Edwards

Freelance writer, fantasy novelist, and nerd of the highest order.

WoW: On Change and Impermanence

World of Warcraft is famous, or perhaps infamous, for change, for constantly reinventing itself. Classes change, often radically, with each new expansion, and the game’s systems and content are in a constant state of flux.

The climax of the Shadowmoon Valley storyline in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorThere was a time when I tolerated, even welcomed, this level of change. I enjoy the idea of an ever-evolving virtual world, and I respect Blizzard’s desire to be constantly tweaking, constantly looking for a better way.

Indeed, change is a necessary part of any online game. Change too little, and the experience becomes stale. Minor annoyances become intolerable over the course of years. I’ve spent a long time complaining about the lack of change given to the rogue class, and I’m overjoyed we’re finally getting an overhaul in Legion.

Still, I am now reaching a point where I believe World of Warcraft is changing too much. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s not offering enough permanence.

I fully grant that this is not a black and white issue; the line between too much and too little change in an MMO is incredibly blurry and probably different for every individual player. But I’m still going to attempt to make the argument that WoW is now in too much flux.

Class war(craft):

I really don’t want this to be a post about my own personal gripes with current class design, but I must bring them up at least a bit just to give an example of what I’m talking about.

A sad. I has oneAlthough my main is a rogue (in so much as the term “main” has any meaning for an altoholic like me), I also play a warlock quite a bit. Now, for the second time just since I started playing one, warlocks are being rebooted as a radically different class. I rather liked the first reboot, but this coming one is tickling my fancy much less, to put it mildly.

I find myself with little enthusiasm to muster about the warlock class as it will exist in Legion. For that matter, I’m also none to keen on the changes planned for monks — windwalker spec aside.

This has me wondering if checking out some new classes might be worth it. Demon hunter is obviously tempting, but with the current state of alpha, it’s hard to say how much I’ll enjoy it.

Hunter, on the other hand, is intriguing. Hunter class mechanics never quite clicked for me, but I love archer classes as a rule, and their changes in Legion look very appealing.

In particular, the dark ranger talent has perked my ears up. I’ve wanted to play as a dark ranger for years, archery and shadow magic being two things I love. It’s the chocolate and peanut butter of class design.

My hunter in the Arathi HighlandsYet I have to wonder: Is it worth getting invested in a new class when all these new toys that excite me might be thrown out later? Perhaps Blizzard will later decide to add an actual dark ranger class and remove those abilities from the hunter — they’ve already proven themselves willing to gut existing classes to build new ones.

That would make all the time I spent leveling, gearing, and growing to love a hunter a waste.

Constantly trying new classes used to be one of the main things that kept me playing WoW, but now I struggle to find the motivation. Class design now seems so mutable that there’s not even any point in getting invested in something new and exciting.

And yes, I’m looking forward to the upcoming rogue overhaul, but I imagine there are more than a few who are upset by how much their class is changing — almost into something unrecognizable — and I can’t say I blame them. While these particular changes appeal to my tastes, the truth is we probably didn’t need change on this scale. All we rogues ever really wanted were some quality of life tweaks, better animations, and one or two cool new abilities.

Plus, I do wonder if it’s even worth getting excited about the new rogues when there’s a good chance all the things I like are going to be thrown out and replaced in an expansion or two anyway.

A shaman's cave in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorAgain, I don’t want this post to be about my personal gripes. You might not agree with my complaints about Legion’s class design. But I wager most people who’ve played WoW for any length of time can think of at least one example of a class they loved changing into something unrecognizable that they no longer enjoy.

Fleeting features:

Ever-changing class design isn’t the only issue, though. I’m also growing increasingly distressed by Blizzard’s new policy of adding features that are only used for one expansion, such as scenarios, garrisons, and now artifact weapons.

This, to me, just seems asinine on so many levels. I’ve always felt that the point of an expansion — what justifies the price tag and separates it from a content patch — is that it expands the game. It adds new features and avenues of play that we’ll continue to enjoy for years to come.

I still miss scenarios. A lot. They were fantastic story-telling tools, they were a lot of fun, and they fit perfectly into the ecosystem of WoW’s endgame. I loved how I could queue for a scenario, a dungeon, and a raid, and have each pop as I finished the previous, with no wait times.

Garrisons got a lot of hate, some of it deserved and some of it not, but I still believe they were a feature with incredible potential. To see them abandoned is a great disappointment. Here’s a case where Blizzard’s endless tweaking would have been most welcome. We were so close to a compelling player housing system that would have fit well with the personality of Warcraft, but now it seems WoW’s hopes for true player housing have been dashed forever.

My rogue's garrison in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorI’m excited for artifact weapons in Legion — they fit very well with my own ideals for how RPG progression should work — but we already know they’re not going to be sticking around after Legion.

Just think about that for a minute. Imagine how much it’s going to suck to take the bloody Ashbringer and stick it in your bank, where it will gather dust and never be seen or used again.

So, again, I struggle to find motivation going forward. Why should I bust my hump to upgrade and max out an artifact that I’m just going to replace with a quest green three days into World of Warcraft: Still Not an Azshara Expansion Because Screw You That’s Why? I can tell you knowing garrisons aren’t being supported going forward killed a lot of my motivation for alt play in WoD, since garrison and character progression are so strongly linked.

It’s supremely hypocritical on Blizzard’s part, too. We’re constantly being told that we can’t have X feature or Y improvement because of limited resources (the “cost us a raid tier” meme), but yet they can find the resources to design massive, intricate features that are simply thrown away after one expansion? That’s mind-bogglingly wasteful.

I can see pitfalls for the idea of carrying things like garrisons and artifacts forward — for example, some people might not like being stuck with a single weapon forever more (though I’d be fine with it) — but I certainly don’t think these are problems that can’t be solved. To use the artifact example, Blizzard could add more artifacts to compete with the old ones, or create a system where artifacts and drops are both valid choices.

A preview of the outlaw artifact skins for World of Warcraft: LegionThis can even tie-in to my favourite ranting topic: Blizzard’s attempt to remove flight in content going forward. Though they eventually backed down (partially), they had no problem invalidating mounts that players had spent months or years grinding for.

Why should I pursue any goal in this game when Blizzard has so little regard for the effort I’ve expended? I like collecting transmog gear, but should I even bother? Who’s to say Blizzard won’t try to remove or severely limit transmog at some point? Makes as much sense as their attack on flight.

* * *

Here’s what it boils down to: I can live with the current changes, even if I dislike some of them, but I have so little faith left in the game’s stability going forward that it’s hard to become invested in anything where WoW is concerned. It’s not the current round of overhauls that bothers me so much is it is the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Change is a key part of an MMO, but so are investment and permanence. Change is only good so long as it doesn’t overly threaten one’s desire to build and develop a character over months and years.

After all, why build a house on sand?

Review: Elysium

I enjoyed District 9 back in the day, so when I heard the director was putting out another sci-fi movie, titled Elysium, I was immediately interested. Of course, my life was a mess at the time, so it’s taken me until now to actually watch it.

Matt Damon as Max Da Costa in ElysiumSet 150 years in the future, Elysium depicts a dystopic planet Earth utterly ruined by disease, overpopulation, and pollution. The wealthy have escaped to a vast, paradisaical space station, Elyisum, where their every need is fulfilled, and any sickness can be instantly cured.

The story follows Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon, an ex-con factory worker. He receives a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident and is given five days to live. Meanwhile, his childhood friend, Frey, struggles to support her daughter, who is dying from leukemia.

I think you can see where this is going.

I was expecting Elysium to be an intellectual, thought-provoking piece of science fiction. As it turns out, not so much. The story is fairly straightforward, and the messaging is quite ham-fisted.

In particular, the ruling class of Elysium are so cartoonishly heartless and evil it’s difficult to take seriously sometimes. Even my anti-corporate, pro-equality, angry leftist self found this to be a case of laying it on a bit thick. It’s certainly not the chillingly believable dystopia of Continuum.

Thankfully, though, Elysium does have other strengths to call upon.

The titular space station in ElysiumElysium didn’t turn out to be a think-piece so much as a fairly standard sci-fi action adventure, but in that, it does its job well. The action sequences are brutal, visceral, and exciting. The special effects are spectacular, and the art design is strong. It manages to both an incredibly ugly movie and an absolute feast for the eyes at the same time.

The main characters are a little thin, but they’re good enough to keep you engaged. Similarly, the acting is adequate but not award-worthy. I was able to forget I was watching Matt Damon after a while, at least.

Actually, the best acting probably comes from the main antagonist, played by Sharlto Copley, who is so skin-crawlingly vile from beginning to end that I spent half the movie visualizing gruesome and painful fates for him.

Elysium has a pretty strong emotional punch, and while the journey to get there is a little inconsistent, its ending is one of the more powerful and satisfying that I’ve seen in recent memory.

So in the end Elysium is a lot like District 9. It, too, was a bit rough around the edges, but ultimately it was a good movie, and the same is true of Elysium. Not a masterpiece, but worth your time.

Overall rating: 7.3/10