WoW: Where I’m At

I’ve been pretty diligent about blogging on the various class stories in World of Warcraft as I’ve completed them, but along the way I’ve neglected to talk about the rest of my adventures in Azeroth. It’s time to rectify that, so without further ado, I present you my thoughts on the Tomb of Sargeras, Argus, and more.

My demon hunter soars over Argus in World of WarcraftIf you’re not up to date on the 7.2 and 7.3 content that’s currently been released, here be spoilers.

Tomb raiding:

When you think about it, it’s pretty strange it’s taken so long for the Tomb of Sargeras to appear in WoW, isn’t it? It’s been an important location in Warcraft lore since the 90s.

Anyway, it’s a good raid. I like it. It’s the first raid I’ve done in a long time that feels truly epic and important, and it’s got a lot of fun boss fights.

I was a mixed on Kil’jaeden being a mid-tier boss. He’s the sort of character who’s usually reserved for an end of expansion encounter, and even then, I’ve spent a long time thinking we players should never have the chance to defeat him (Sunwell doesn’t count since he hadn’t even fully entered Azeroth).

But his fight does feel suitably epic and intense, and I realized that I was still thinking of the old Kil’jaeden, the one from before the great Draenei retcon that blew up lore as we knew it.

Fighting Kil'Jaeden within the Tomb of Sargeras in World of WarcraftHe used to be this immortal avatar of evil, the personification of darkness itself. But after the retcon, he’s now just another warlock. An ancient and unusually powerful warlock, yes, but still, just a warlock. He’s not the legendary figure he once was.

So I guess it’s okay for him to be ganked by a gaggle of random mortals halfway through an expansion.

His death cinematic and the reveal of Argus was great, too, though I wish they hadn’t gone through with sticking Argus in the sky for everyone even if they haven’t done the fight yet. Rather spoiled the reveal.

Mind you, it’s impossible to ever avoid spoilers where WoW is concerned. No one in the community — including the devs themselves — has any respect for that sort of thing.

The hand of fate:

Due in large part to my enmity for the Draenei, the seemingly inevitable journey to Argus is something I’ve long-dreaded. I remain relieved that it’s merely a patch and not a full expansion.

As I’ve played through it, I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings on it.

The view of Azeroth from Argus in World of WarcraftThe defeat of the Burning Legion is not something I ever expected or wanted to see, but it does seem increasingly likely that’s where we’re headed. The whole appeal of the Legion was that they were nigh-unstoppable. You could fend them off — you could save your world — but you could never hope to end their threat entirely.

But now we’re invading their home turf, and it looks like the Legion will soon be a thing of the past.

I was also initially bothered by how many non-Legion Eredar — Broken and Army of the Light alike — have apparently survived and continued fighting the Legion all this time.

I can think of no better symbol of how utterly the Legion has been defanged. They were introduced as the end of all life, and now it turns out they couldn’t even stamp out all resistance on the world that is their base of operations. They’re not very good at this, are they?

But then I realized that the Legion has been neutered for a long time now. I keep wanting them to be as terrifying as they were in Warcraft III, but the fact is that ship has sailed.

When I consider the damage that’s been done to the Legion’s lore over the years, Argus is about making the best of a bad situation. Seen through that lens, it’s doing a very good job, and if you let go of the Legion as the Ultimate Threat and view it simply as a threat, it’s actually a great ride.

The horrors of Argus in World of WarcraftArgus is a scary place. The mobs are pretty tough by WoW’s meager standards, there are elites and mini-bosses everywhere, the environments are hellish, and overall you really do get the impression that this entire planet wants to kill you. It’s one of those places where you feel like a complete badass just for setting foot there, and I haven’t gotten that feeling this strongly since Icecrown.

I’ve heard some people say that Argus is a pain to navigate, and that’s probably true for someone who can’t double jump and glide, but I brought my demon hunter there, and for her, Argus is a playground. I can get almost anywhere by finding a cliff and gliding. It’s wonderful.

Right now, the place is teeming with players, so there’s a great “D-Day” feel to the place, too. This is definitely one of those moments where I’m glad to play MMOs. Single-player games just don’t capture quite the same feeling, no matter how many NPCs you cram in.

I’ve enjoyed the story, as well. Even the Draenei stuff, mostly.

It probably doesn’t hurt that Argus paints the Draenei in an incredibly bad light. Now that we know many of their people stayed behind to fight, the Draenei are no longer these saintly embodiments of all goodness and virtue. Suddenly we realize they’re the deserters who left their friends and family to die. Dare I say, do the Draenei have nuance now?

Alleria Windrunner in World of WarcraftI was a bit suspicious around the reintroduction of Turalyon and Alleria, given how forced Khadgar’s sudden return to the spotlight has felt, but whacky timeline issues aside, I’m finding their stories very intriguing (especially Alleria’s, not surprisingly).

The most interesting thing is that I get the distinct impression their story doesn’t end with Legion’s. In fact, it seems like it’s just getting started…

I just hope Alleria doesn’t wind up too anti-Horde. I mean, historically, she’s been extremely anti-Horde, so it would make sense, but I’d like at least one Windrunner sister to find a place among the Blood Elves. It’s hard for me to get over Vereesa betraying her own people, and whatever Sylvanas may have been in life, it’s clear she no longer feels any loyalty to Quel’thalas.

I want a Windrunner I can cheer for. I don’t want to have to choose between how much I like Alleria and how much I like the Blood Elves.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty happy with Argus, and in fact I’m probably more content with WoW now than I have been in a very long time.

Odds and ends:

A scenic view of Val'sharah in World of WarcraftFew other random things to note.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very underwhelmed by the soundtrack in the two most recent WoW expansions. This is a shame because the music used to be a huge part of the game’s appeal for me.

Somewhere along the line it occurred to me to wonder if there was an add-on that could customize the in-game soundtrack. Turns out there are several. I picked Epic Music Player. You can use it to import your own music, but I’ve been content to just play with the existing WoW soundtrack, which is all pre-loaded into the add-on.

I set up customized play-lists for each Legion zone, drawing on my favourite tracks from Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria, plus some of the better Legion songs. These playlists activate automatically as soon as I enter the corresponding zone.

It’s done wonders for my enjoyment of the expansion, honestly. It’s amazing what a difference a good soundtrack could make.

In other news, I’ve gotten some interesting cosmetics recently.

The Highlord's Vengeful Charger mount in World of WarcraftI’m not much of a mount collector, and while the grind to unlock them is relatively tame, I haven’t the patience to get every single class mount. But as you can see, I did decide to grab the paladin class mount on the grounds that it’s gorgeous (I’ve already had the raven mount for rogues for a while, and I love it).

I especially like the red and grey tint for the paladin mount, as it matches my transmog very well. It leaves silver hoofprints when it runs. It’s lovely.

Also on the subject of mounts, I finally pulled the trigger and got myself the Grand Expedition Yak from Pandaria. It costs almost as much as a full WoW Token, but being able to access a vendor or change my outfit anywhere in the game is a wonderful convenience.

And the Grummles amuse me. It seems very surreal running through the horrors of Argus with the little guys. “WHERE IS YOUR LUCKYDO NOW?”

Finally, as a PSA, it seems the drop rates for many hidden artifact appearances were greatly increased in 7.3. Did someone say…

The Thunderfury, Hallowed Blade of the Windlord hidden artifact appearance for outlaw rogues in World of Warcraft…Thunderfury, Hallowed Blade of the Windlord?

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RPGs Versus Progression Games

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the video games we refer to as role-playing games, or RPGs, are spectacularly mislabeled?

Scott Ryder in Mass Effect: AndromedaLet’s look at what that term actually means. “Role-playing” refers to assuming an identity or personality other than your own. To pretend to be someone else, usually to act out a scenario or tell a story.

While most RPGs incorporate at least some element of this, it’s very rarely the focus. It isn’t what defines the genre. In video game terms, RPG elements are considered to be things like character levels, stat sheets, experience points, and unlockable abilities. All of these things have little or nothing to do with role-playing.

I understand that the ingrained terminology of the genre is not going to change just because a chubby blogger in Toronto says so, but I would like to outline why I believe that most if not all video games we call RPGs are mislabeled, and how this goes a long way to explaining my love-hate relationship with the genre.

Stop, drop, and role:

I know quoting Wikipedia is in the same realm of tackiness as bringing 7 Up as a wedding gift, but while looking for definitions of role-playing, I found this one pretty apt: “A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories.” [Source]

I would argue that video games eliminate the need for other players in the creation of your role-play story, as scripted NPCs can fulfill the same need. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t role-play with other people, of course; it just means they aren’t a necessity.

My party in Sword Coast LegendsEither way, role-play is about assuming a role and telling a story.

Now what does that have to do with level grinds and character stats? Nothing whatsoever.

In the early days of tabletop role-playing, things like character sheets and stat rolls and such were necessary to give the experience some degree of order and consistent logic. Video games, on the other hand, have the ability to keep all that under the hood and provide the player a seamless, immersive experience.

But because the genre’s origins were rooted in numbers and stats, gamers and developers have come to conflate the two. The character sheets and dice rolls continued into the digital space, and now they’ve taken over the genre entirely to the point where they’ve shoved out the actual role-playing.

Consider MMOs. Traditionally developers have had to designate special servers (usually a minority of the total server pool) for role-playing, and increasingly they’re not even bothering to do that.

Those who do role-play in MMOs are often viewed by other players as strange or even deviant, and openly mocked. They are a minority, and like all minorities in gaming, held in very low regard.

My rogue in RiftDoes this not seem incredibly bizarre to anyone else? If we’re to believe the name of the genre, role-players are the only ones who are actually playing the games correctly, and I say that as someone who is at best only on the barest periphery of role-play.

I think this proves the games we call RPGs aren’t about role-playing at all. Most of them incorporate RPG elements, but that doesn’t make them true RPGs.

To give you an idea, I think Life Is Strange is much more of an RPG than World of Warcraft. It’s all about playing a character and making choices as that character to shape the story. I’m not sure it’s a perfect example of what an RPG could or should be, but it’s certainly much closer than most of the games we call RPGs.

So what should we call them?

I name your true name:

I would argue that the genre we have come to call RPGs should instead be known as progression games.

The core concept that unifies the genre is that of progression, of growing more powerful and improving your character’s performance. You level up, unlock new abilities, get better gear, and so forth. This is true regardless of whether you’re playing Mass Effect, Pillars of Eternity, Diablo, Aion, Persona, or whatever other example you want to give.

A screenshot from the RPG Titan QuestProgression is the mechanic that purists of the genre cling to. I’ve often heard complaints that level-scaling such as was introduced to the Elder Scrolls Online with One Tamriel is bad because it makes games less of an RPG. That’s an absolutely ridiculous argument; level-scaling makes a game more of an RPG by eliminating ridiculous scenarios like slaying a dragon with a single punch.

But level-scaling does make it less of a progression game. We have conflated RPGs and progression mechanics to the point where people are unable to separate them, but in truth it’s little more than an accident of history that the two are related at all.

Pretty much the only area where the two concepts meet is when constructing a character build. Your choices of which stats to stack and which abilities to unlock help express the identity of your character, and that is an element of role-playing as well as a means of progression.

For example, in World of Warcraft, my warlock actually hates demons. As a result, I choose the talent Grimoire of Sacrifice whenever possible, allowing her to sacrifice her demon minion to increase her own power. This enhances the fantasy of the character. To her, demons are simply a resource to fuel her own quest for vengeance, and Grimoire of Sacrifice lets me express this concept through the gameplay.

But even then performance concerns in progression games can often cause you to make compromises in your character concept in order to ensure your character is strong enough to overcome the challenges before you. This is especially a problem in MMOs, where there’s an element of social pressure to conform.

My warlock cosplaying as a demon hunter in World of WarcraftStalled by progression:

Understanding the difference between role-playing and progression games goes a long way to explaining the love/hate relationship that I have with the genre we tend to call RPGs. You see, I’m a big fan of role-playing games, but much less fond of progression games.

Certainly progression provides a very strong psychological hook, which is why nearly every game of every genre now has at least some small element of it. We are as a species keyed to appreciate reward structures like this.

But that doesn’t necessarily make it interesting gameplay, and the more time you spend with it, the more transparent it becomes. After so many years of playing progression games — especially MMOs, where the treadmill is at its most naked and cynical — I have almost entirely stopped caring. I’ve gotten so much phat lewt and heard so many level dings that it’s stopped meaning anything to me at all.

I still like making builds, and earning new abilities is the one part of progression that still consistently excites me, hence my two Panoptic Cores in TSW (RIP). But for the most part I’m reaching the point where I just want to establish a good build as quickly as possible and then focus on actually playing the game.

Progression inhibits role-play at least as much as it enhances it. It’s a distraction at best, a roadblock at worst. Hence my eternal frustration with a genre I otherwise love. What I want is to inhabit a character, to immerse myself in a world. Most of what we call RPGs offer this, but not always to the extent I crave. Too much focus is put on the numbers, not enough on the texture and character of the world and its story.

Jeyne Kassynder in Dungeon Siege III. Ah, Jeyne, we hardly knew yeI think this is what keeps me coming back to Bioware, despite their inconsistencies. They’re progression games, but they haven’t forgotten their RPG roots. They’re still, at their heart, about people, places, and stories.

And that’s what attracts me: Exploring new lands, getting to know characters, and living out stories. Those are the experiences I crave. That’s what role-playing games are truly about.