World of Warcraft (WoW) is one of the largest, most well-known, and popular MMOs in existence. It was first released in November 2004 by Blizzard Entertainment and has since had four expansions released (with a fifth coming out soon). WoW has had periods of over 7 million active subscribers, making it one of the most (if not the most) subscribed to MMOs in the world. Though not the first MMO, WoW has arguably become the first game people think of when someone mentions MMOs and has set the standard for modern MMOs. On a slightly darker note, WoW has also become famous for turning people in to ‘WoW addicts’, whose lives become consumed by playing the game. So with some fairly high expectations and some slight reservations, I decided to give WoW a try. During this write-up of WoW I will be going in to some mechanics common to Fantasy MMOs like WoW that I will then probably relate to in future write ups of other MMOs.
Character Creation Screen, Kind of Basic, but Gets the Job Done
You begin Wow by choosing your character’s faction, race/ class, and look (like almost any other MMO). Players can pick from typical fantasy game classes which include archers, warriors, and magic users. Two competing factions are available to players, Alliance and Horde, who are best summarized as the ‘good guys’, Alliance, and the ‘bad guys’, Horde. WoW doesn’t offer a ton of physical customization options, but it’s enough to give your character a fairly distinctive look. From the very beginning, I thought that the graphics and presentation in WoW seemed very basic and minimal. For instance, the game’s textures look smooth but are not overly detailed and I felt like minimal information was presented about each race and faction. The graphic’s quality may be a deliberate design choice by Blizzard though, who often designs games to have lower system requirements in order to keep the potential player base larger. At any rate, I decided to create a night elf archer for my first adventure in WoW.
Main Play Screen, Typical MMO Layout of Skill Bar on the Bottom, Character Status in the Top Left, Map in the Top Right
WoW is a Fantasy MMO full of magical kingdoms and mythological beasts. The characters in the game tend to be those common to the fantasy literature including Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Humans. These games often begin with the player being dropped in to their starting area after being told of some trouble brewing nearby, such as an evil presence, impending war, some crazed emperor, or some mysterious problem. Some back story may be provided by an introductory movie (game movies are one thing that Blizzard tends to excel at). WoW begins with a movie where a Human and an Orc fight each other, and then eventually fight a Panda. The animation is great, but the whole thing seems pretty pointless. This leads to one of my next complaints about WoW. I get the impression that I am sort of ‘late to the party’. Why are the Orks, Humans, and Pandas fighting? Is the reveal of the Panda later in the fight important to the game’s plot? After this introductory video I am dropped in to an environment where nothing revealed in this video seems to matter or impact my character’s back story or current motivations. Maybe some of the earlier introductory videos from previous expansions would have given me a better idea of what I will be doing in the game. To be fair, in many fantasy games, books, or movies, Orcs are evil, Humans are good, and that is really all the back-story you need.
NPC with Quest Marker Above Head and Quest Pop-Up Window Explaining Quest Objectives
After gathering your initial bearings, Players then talk to important NPCs (Non playable characters, often highlighted by big symbols over their heads) in order to get quests. Quests are a mechanic present in every MMO I have ever played. Quests can further the game’s story, provide items and equipment, and give the player experience points to increase their character’s level. Higher levels unlock new abilities, allow character’s to use more powerful gear, and unlock additional quests. In order to unlock almost anything in the game, Players are required to do quests. These quests ultimately lead the player to new areas where Players can explore and discover more of the game’s story. Other motivations for completing quests are experiencing the game’s story, unlocking new skills, and finding more powerful equipment, among many other potential driving forces. Quests also provide small succinct goals for Players to accomplish, instead of something more along the lines of: “just go out and explore and see what happens”. They also may add to the addictive nature of MMOs, because players may always feel like they can do just one more quest before they log off.
The quest giver menu in WoW is functional but not very interesting or pretty. When talking to a quest giver, Players are given a rather bland pop up window explaining a bit of the back-story for the quest and what the objectives are. I think it is safe to say that most Players ignore the text blurb and just read what the objectives are for many of the quests (especially with quests not related to the main story-line). Still, the menu serves its purpose and is simple enough to navigate.
Plundering some Quest Loot from a Fallen Foe
Early quests typically require Players to kill x amount of enemies, gather x amount of things, or go find something at a destination. This isn’t really a knock on this game because these quests are common in MMOs, but the quests here still feel a bit slow and tedious. Some annoyances I found while doing quests was that enemies seemed to only drop required quest items about 50% or less of the time, and other players could kill enemies that you need to finish a quest. This became even more annoying because the mob re-spawn times felt too long. These early quests also didn’t seem to feed in to any greater story (or at least not one that really caught my attention). I didn’t really get a good sense of where I came from, what this place was, or what the main driving action of the story was.
Map with Quest Selection Interface, the Full Screen Interface Makes it a Bit Intrusive and Difficult to Use
The game’s interface is typical for a Fantasy MMO. There is a player status icon, a local map icon, some menu access buttons (such as map, equipment, items, quests), and a skill bar at the bottom middle of the screen. Players can bring up the map screen which shows where everything is and where current quest objectives are. The map screen does take up your whole screen though, which can be annoying and sort of removes the player from the world for a bit. This also made finding some quest objectives more difficult because I sometimes felt like I was constantly flipping between the map and the main game screen to find certain places. Having the map screen as a pop up on the main window (which also often includes a dynamic zooming feature), as is the case in many more modern MMOs, makes finding most quest objectives much easier. The skill bar provides a lot of room for the skills you will acquire in the game, and the interface provides a lot of open screen real estate. The icons actually feel too small for me at higher screen resolutions, but often skills are more easily accessed with ‘hotkeys’ (number keys above letters on keyboard) anyway.
Staring Down an Evil Dude
During battles Players use skills from their skill bars for various purposes such as damaging enemies, healing allies, and adding positive or negative conditions to enemies or allies. This style of combat is very common among MMOs. WoW doesn’t feel like it’s bringing anything all that new to the formula (or, maybe everyone just copied what they did here), but the combat is fine and as anticipate for this genre. I have heard that WoW has a very large number of skills you can acquire later on though, which may appeal to Players who like having many different options available for character ‘builds’ (skills and equipment selected for your character). MMOs tend to follow two different design paths as far as total number of skills available. They either allow players to acquire large numbers of skills or only have a limited number of skills available (the amount of equipment available to players is also often plentiful or limited). Early combat in the game tends to be done solo where a player takes on only a few enemies at a time, but later game activities such as exploring dungeons, taking on high level bosses, and player versus player arena fights, can require lots of coordination between players in order to achieve success.
WoW’s team game-play is based around what many players have dubbed ‘the trinity’. WoW, as well as many other MMO’s, has three primary class types (the three sides of the trinity): tank, healer, and DPS (damage per second). The tank absorbs damage and keeps enemies focused on him/her. The healer focuses on keeping all the players in the team alive, especially the tank. DPS classes focus on damaging enemies as fast as possible. For example, a balanced party might consist of a warrior or paladin (tanks), a white mage or priest (healer), and an archer or black mage (DPS). Each class type is designed with a strength and a weakness, for instance a tank can take quite a bit of damage but cannot do high amounts of damage to enemies.
So now that we have gone a bit in to how WoW works (and other MMOs), I wanted to address some of more of my criticisms of WoW. I noticed that WoW doesn’t have a very intuitive tutorial interface. There is a help menu available, but there are no interactive pop up tutorials, and early quests don’t feel like they offer much guidance on how to play the game (besides introducing you to how quests work in general). Many MMO’s are not very complicated, but I think it’s nice to have a more interactive tutorial present for new players, since it helps new people learn the ropes better and may provide some new information even to MMO veterans. Features like this can make a game feel more friendly and welcoming, so the lack of features like this makes WoW feel dated and lacking in initial presentation.
Flat textures, Little Detail, Serviceable but not Great
Staring at Me with that Vacant Eyeball-less Stare
The graphics in WoW are decent but are not impressive when compared to other modern games. I did have my graphics turned all the way to maximum, as far as I am aware. As I have said before, this was probably deliberately done by Blizzard in order to keep system requirements low. To me, the graphics look flat and like they very little detail. For instance, bushes appear to be made out of cardboard cut outs rather than having a full depth to them. One thing that really bothered me is that none of the characters have eyes, they just have glowing orbs. Now, I don’t want to play a game just for graphics, but I think in a fantasy game there has to be a bit of a wow factor. I want to have some moments where I see a new landscape or some impressive building, and I just have to sit back for a second and go ‘Wow, that’s awesome’. When the graphics look dated and flat, I feel like you can lose these moments.
WoW is known for having vast amounts of end game content. This is considered one of the games largest strengths, and people say there is always something to do in WoW. End game content is activities players can do in an MMO after you reach the highest level. Some activities include crafting items and weapons, fighting other players in small or large team skirmishes (PvP and Battlegrounds), playing cooperatively with other players to conquer dungeons or challenging bosses (dungeons and raids), or just exploring the world and completing all the quests you can find. With all these activities, and certainly more coming, there is a lot to look forward to in WoW after you reach the highest level (probably the most of any MMO out there).
Overall I am not that impressed with WoW. I was expecting much more from a game that people are known to rave about. Maybe getting in to WoW this late in the game is a much different experience than jumping in at the very beginning (when there are so many more MMO’s available now). Overall the game just doesn’t feel that polished by modern standards, the pacing feels slow, and many of the quests feel like a chore. I didn’t real feel that sense of magic in this game that I wanted to. Also, I don’t really sense any greater purpose in the game from what I played. Sure, people seem to say that something bad is happening in the world, but what is my role in it? What is the larger story? I realize that I can’t expect the story to all be revealed in the starting zone though, and I only got through the starting zone because I lost interest after that. I don’t think that WoW is a bad game, but it’s hard to get excited about it with so many new and more modern MMO offerings out there. I am sure that there is a lot more to WoW that I missed or have not gotten to yet, and many will say that I have unfairly judged WoW after only playing a short amount. But, the point of playing games is to have fun, and I was not having that much fun playing WoW.
So, Flying to the Next Destination is Pretty Cool, but Might get Old….
Until next time, this is Boy Dangerous, mounting my flying bird and departing the World of Warcraft. Actually, the flying bird part is kind of cool… Next time, we explore a galaxy far, far away.