Monday, November 17, 2014

Warlords of Draenor - early impressions

What I tried playing this weekend
It's probably worth noting before I (or anyone) talks about World of Warcraft that I may have played this game a little too much back in the day,* because alas Warlords of Draenor isn't really grabbing me like I had thought it might. Part of the problem is that I think I used my "Warcraft nostalgia" energy slogging my character out of Cataclysm and through Pandaria to get ready for the new expansion. Even though this is the best time to level (leveling speed accelerates dramatically for older campaigns right before the new expansion comes out) it was still apparently all I could manage.

That's not to say Warlords of Draenor isn't worth checking out. Rather, I'd suggest that if you are not burned out on WoW (or the concept of it) then WoD is worth your time. But if you might be on the fence, here are a few things to consider:

1. The graphic overhaul on the characters is incredibly nice and about six years overdue. This would have looked impressive in 2008 (for an MMO). The cartoony look and exaggerated environments remain, however. It's a WoW style, but if you're tired of it this is not the expansion to make it go away.

2. The talent/ability mechanics in WoW got a serious overhaul. They are now so simple and free of any real decision making that I am finding it hard to not wax nostalgic about the good  old days, when I used to think WoW was ridiculously simplistic with its three unique talent trees with their own branching progression paths. I miss the odd stuff too, like weapon training, feeding your pet to improve its mood (for hunters) and other flavor elements that have been utterly purged from the game.

3. The fights just feel stale and there's no drama: you're either gonna clobber your foe  (99% of the time) or you know you need an extra buddy or a couple more levels. Whatever skill used to be's gone now. Example: my son can play the game and manage to both stay alive and level somehow. He is not quite 3 years old, and his priorities include swimming wherever he can take his character, hiding in odd places and smashing spiders (not big spiders; tiny imaginary ones in bushes and on walls0....and he's somehow able to stay alive and advance.**

 I think playing too much Elder Scrolls Online has screwed up my ability to enjoy older classic-style target and click MMO mechanics...especially the WoW style of this genre.

4. The new storyline is dropped on you without enough preamble (in my opinion). Not least of which is why current-era game world is being invaded by the orcs of pre-Outland era Draenor from 35 years earlier. It is possible that I did not play some raid/group endgame content I should know about, but that said, this seems like an important detail that bears explanation. Also note that it's not the time travel issue that concerns me....WoW already has had time travel events (Caves of Time). Rather, it's the lack of any sort of explanation....even somebody like Khadgar telling me, "This is very weird and we need to find out why this is happening" would be nice. Maybe he says it later on....I only got about as far as building the fort when I developed this gnawing feeling that I'd rather jam hot pokers into my eyes than play anymore.

5. Although this expansion pumps a lot into trying to make it all feel very serious (in a summer action blockbuster sort of way) which is appreciated after the shoddy joke so much of the revised world post-Cataclysm turned in's still got that sort of super-cartoony "Saturday Morning Cartoon Logic" thing going for much of the storytelling. Again....I think I've maybe been too spoiled by other MMOs that actually took themselves seriously (cough Elder Scrolls cough). The idea of going back to wasting time on a game that perceives itself as a joke narrative with moments of semi-seriousness is hard to conceive of.

Anyway....I'll play for a few weeks until my sub runs out, see how much time I can spend leveling up and exploring it before interest wanes. Or maybe I'll just keep playing Elder Scrolls Online, which after it's fifth update is shaping up to be a very tight game. Speaking of which, I was really surprised to see that Elder Scrolls' weekend population did not dip perceptibly despite the WoD release this week. (Yeah, yeah....I actually played more ESO this weekend than WoW. Says a lot about how much WoD grabbed me.)

What I actually played this weekend

*According to some of my old WoW cohorts (around BC era) I was a "casual" since I played less than 30 hours per week. Dumbasses. 

**There's a whole different article worth exploring that points out which games have control schemes or operate in such easily-grasped/identified conceptual space that a three year old can play. The game my son is "good" at as he approaches age 3 are really interesting.....and WoW is one of them (fyi Sunset Overdrive is another). Yes, at the rate he's going his Tauren will be level 5 by the time he turns 5, too....but it's letting him learn how to maneuver with a mouse, which is really interesting seeing him learn to do.

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