What I Still Like About WoW

Yes, it finally happened.

My warlock shows off her Hearthsteed mount in World of WarcraftAfter being away for the lion’s share of a year — by far my longest break to date — I have finally reactivated my subscription for World of Warcraft. I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with this game, and the last year or two has seen me spend more time than ever on the “hate” side of the love/hate divide, but there are still things that keep me coming back.

I thought I’d try to be positive for once and list off some of the key reasons I keep slinking back, despite all my bellyaching. This probably isn’t a definitive list, but it’s the big things that stood out for me during this particular return.

You will never run out of things to do. Ever

To say WoW is a big game would be a bit like saying the sun is kind of warm. WoW is staggeringly, overwhelming enormous, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to ever find yourself with nothing to do.

WoW has been running for nearly ten years now, and its development is based on a “quantity over quality” philosophy. That can have its downsides, but it does equal a game overflowing with pretty much every kind of content under the sun. Even if you hate 50% of everything in WoW, the remaining half will still offer thousands of hours of gameplay.

Every MMO can keep you busy almost indefinitely if you delve deeply into every single thing it offers, but most people won’t find every style of play appealing — dungeon heroes may not be into PvP or grinding out quests, for instance. WoW is unique because it can keep you occupied pretty much forever even if you ignore large sections of it.

My warlock battles Al'akir the Windlord in Throne of the Four Winds in World of WarcraftI’ve never done a pet battle, I have no interest in raiding outside of LFR, and I can only handle PvP in very small doses, but I can find no end of entertainment in leveling alts, running dungeons and scenarios, soloing old raids, or exploring for the Hell of it.

Accessible group content

MMOs are social games. Group content will always be their heart and soul. Despite that, I’m shocked by how little effort many games put into making group content easy to get into.

For all my love for The Secret World, for all that it is very nearly my perfect MMO, it really falls flat in this area. Not having an automated group finder in this day and age is downright embarrassing, and trying to find groups is like pulling teeth.

To make matters worse, there are no significant rewards for repeating any dungeons below the nightmare level, so while there are technically three difficulty settings for TSW’s dungeons, in practice you’re out of luck if you don’t want OMGWTFBBQ hard content where everything one-shots you.

WoW used to struggle in this regard, too, but after several years, they’ve reached a point where pretty much all group content is easily accessible. The dungeon and raid finders ensure all group content can be played by anyone, regardless of group role, in-game social connections (or lack thereof), play schedule, or any other issues.

My panda hunter doing Scarlet Monastary in World of WarcraftEven those with strong guilds and many in-game friends can benefit from conveniences like these. If your regular tank is sick, you don’t need to spend an hour begging in Trade chat before commencing your guild dungeon runs.

WoW also offers a wide variety of difficulty levels for its group content, all with compelling rewards, so pretty much everyone can experience it at a level they feel comfortable with. I am a bit worried that the “compelling rewards” part is being stripped away in Warlords of Draenor… but that’s an issue for another day.

I may be mainly a soloist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy group content. While I’m lukewarm on the social aspect, group content adds another dynamic to combat and opens up new roles and play styles. You can’t be a healer or a tank while soloing.

If there’s one thing I miss about WoW when I’m playing TSW, it’s being able to jump into a dungeon whenever I want. I put a lot of effort into building healing and tanking sets for my characters, but I almost never get to put them to use because I don’t want to spend forever waiting for a group only to wipe two dozen times on nightmare Machine Tyrant.

History

There are two sides to this.

One is the fictional history built around the world of Azeroth. As you all know by now, I’m a big lore nerd, and I love the sheer depth and breadth of Warcraft’s history.

Ner'zhul in World of Warcraft: Burning CrusadeSomething that greatly appeals to me is when a fictional universe grows to the point where it’s not just a setting for one story, but a living, breathing tapestry of history and culture. I’m willing to overlook a lot of story-telling faults for a franchise that can provide me with that level of depth. Hence why I got so into Star Trek, despite my many issues with it.

The story of Warcraft is much like the content. There’s just so much of it that you’re bound to find something to appreciate in the whole vast web. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you can’t find something to appreciate in WoW lore, you’re just not looking hard enough.

So I may not like some of Blizzard’s stumbles — like what they did to Illidan and Kael’thas, or the direction of WoD’s plot — but I can look past those things to focus on how awesome the Lich King’s story was, or how creepy the Old Gods are, or how deep Varian is as a character.

The other side is my personal history with the game.

I’ve played WoW for a very long time. About five or six years now — I believe I joined around the time Secrets of Ulduar launched. Now, to people who started playing when the game was first released, or even in Burning Crusade, I’m still an unwelcome Johnny-come-lately, but in real world terms, that’s an insanely long time to be playing a single game.

After so long, it’s hard to leave a game behind. It becomes part of your life. It may disappoint you, you may spend all your time looking back on the “good old days” with rose-coloured glasses, but you just keep rolling with it. Good and bad, whatever comes.

My rogue meeting with Wrathion in Ravenholdt on the Fangs of the Father chainA few days ago, I went to Northshire on my rogue. My mind flashed back to the day I created her, all those years ago, and I was just overwhelmed by memories of how far that character has come and all the things she’s done.

It’s very strange to think of, and a little amazing.

Of course, part of me wonders if I’m just describing Stockholm Syndrome here.

On another note…

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly state that my colleague over at WoW Misadventures is a fairly nice person. She took the time to make a bunch of level one alts on my servers to help me manage my one-man guilds. All my alts are now invited to the Horde guild, and I was also able to start up a personal guild on the Alliance side: <Beware the Thriceborn>.

Seriously, the guild invite spam in that game is out of control now. I must have gotten a dozen different unsolicited invites across all my unguilded characters just in the first day. Madness, I tell you!

Also, one advantage of starting your own guild is that you can design the tabard to match your transmog set.My rogue shows off the tabard for my new one-man Alliance guild

Cheating on WoW: Guild Wars 2 Revisited

Ah, Guild Wars 2. There’s a game I have an odd history with.

My thief taking a rest in the tropics in Guild Wars 2It was a rare case of my drinking the hype Kool Aid before launch. Once it finally did release, I hopped on the bandwagon immediately, and I had a great time… for about three months.

The game lost its luster quickly. Despite its many merits, some major stumbles drove me away from the game, and once I started on The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 faded into my rear view mirror.

But it’s always been in the back of my mind. My fond memories of the game taunt me, and I did get very attached to my characters in my time with the game. I’ve often been tempted to give it another try.

So I finally did. I hopped back in during the climax of the first season of the “Living Story” and spent a few days getting reacquainted. For my full thoughts, see my article on the topic over at WhatMMO:

Revisiting Guild Wars 2

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“If I was to describe Guild Wars 2 in a nutshell, I’d say that it’s a great game that is utterly ignorant of its own strengths. The Living Story seems designed to focus on all of the things ArenaNet cannot do right – like story and group content – while rejecting the positives of the game, such as accessibility and freedom.”

My mesmer taking a walk in the woods in Guild Wars 2It should be noted that there was a delay in getting this article published, so some of what it discusses is old news by now. However, most of my thoughts remain relevant.

It should be said that the recently started second season of the Living Story does — from what I hear — address some of the complaints I have. It does feature a new permanent game zone, albeit one I’m told is fairly small, and it seems like the Elder Dragons are taking center stage again.

However, I fear it may be too little, too late for this player.

It’s a shame. There’s much about Guild Wars 2 that I do truly love. The sense of freedom it offers is incredibly liberating, and it’s probably my all-time favourite game in terms of visuals. Perfect balance between realism and stylization, and the graphics are just gorgeous, especially on my new computer.

But when I don’t care about the world, there’s nothing to disguise the grind at the heart of all MMOs, and I just can’t seem to find the motivation to keep coming back.

My Charr engineer in Guild Wars 2* * *

It occurs to me that continuing to call this segment “Cheating on WoW” is growing increasingly inaccurate, considering I haven’t played WoW for the lion’s share of a year. It should probably be “Cheating on TSW” now.

Doesn’t have the same ring to it, though.