Warlords of Draenor: Analyzing the Changes

<eats Pandaren Treasure Noodles; flasks up; reforges, gems, enchants; repairs armor; straps on kevlar>

Warlords of Draenor, World of Warcraft’s next expansion, has a lot of changes coming that will directly impact how we experience the game. As usual, the vocal minority is up in arms, whining or trolling all over the interwebs. I have seen scant few logical reasons for complaints and enough fallacious reasoning and completely incorrect understanding presented to make me feel like I’m reading the work of a ten-year old (which, in some cases, I’m certain I am). What follows is

  • An apology for WoD (look up the word apology before you misunderstand);
  • An example of how to argue your point (with logic, examples, etc.)

I posted this on the WoW forums, so it’s likely been unliked into oblivion. Unfortunately for those who love ignorance and delusion, they can’t touch me on my own blog!

Really, the best defense is the simplest: just wait and see how it is, THEN whine about it. All of this prophesying and threatening and whining makes you look foolish. It did before MoP, it will when WoD comes out. That isn’t to say WoD won’t be without issues or drawbacks or things we don’t like (I miss the second Pally taunt, for example), but most of the complaints will be about something unforeseen. You – the gamer who pays for an experience – telling a professional – paid to develop an experience, with tons more knowledge and information than you possess – how their plans will screw up is silly. Occasionally, someone’s prediction comes true. Most of the time, it doesn’t.

Simpler and Easier: Not the Same Thing

I feel like many of the changes coming are not making the game easier, they’re making it simpler. Two separate things. The progression seems to be toward requiring players to be better-skilled, reducing the influence of factors like (a) having more time to play and get better, specific gear; (b) having to spend more time reading and then following specific recommendations to enhance gear; (c) who happens to have more gold. Also, the changes seem designed to allow the devs to make more challenging encounters.

No Flying Until 6.1

Flying Mounts purchased with money are mounts purchased by the player for use in allowed areas. You can’t fly your mount in many places already, but you’d be ridiculed for complaining about it. Draenor is an extension of that. You bought the mount, not the “right to fly” it anywhere you choose.  I understand the emotional reaction stemming from having bought the mount with real world money. However, you

  • have plenty of mounts available to you
  • can still use the mounts as ground mounts or outside of Draenor;
  • sound silly complaining about not being able to use a specific mount, like a kid who won’t get in the car without a cherished stuffed friend.

Not being able to fly one for a while shouldn’t ruin the game in much the same way that buying a car shouldn’t be ruined for you because you can’t drive it on a sidewalk or because you can’t drive as fast as you please. I think I’ve actually talked myself out of my empathy.

 Then there is the issue of in-game work-reward. Some mounts are bought, others are earned via drops, and the flightmaster’s license, as well as increased flying speed, cost several thousand gold in sum. Many of the rebuttals above apply here, but there’s one other: the flightmaster license is good only per continent. Always has been. Completely invalid argument.

Some desperate people have completely forgotten what they purchased with their expansion pack and with their ongoing subscription. You paid and continue to pay for an experience created by the developers. When you don’t like the experience, don’t pay anymore. Vote with your wallet. Making up “customer’s rights” fallacies and posting them just clutters up the interwebs and showcases how little you understand the issue. The idea that you paid for the right to fly is like arguing you paid for the right to solo content. You can solo level 40 raids, so you should be able to solo new content? It’s the same argument. You paid to fly level 40 areas, so you should be able to fly in new content? This one has no legs.

Those who collect mats have argued that their work will suffer, becoming more difficult. This is the only argument that makes any sense, but this argument doesn’t consider other factors. For one, less mats leads to less supply leads to increased price-per-product. One jewel in WoD might be worth five from MoP. For another, there will be less need for lots of mats, it seems, especially for JCing and Enchanting. Finally, we will be able to collect some mats via garrisons. Blizz may be (a) undermining botters (always fantastic) and (b) enabling you to craft meaningful items that sell for value, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time posting 50 stacks of Lapiz Lazuli for 75 silver each. If selling stacks at the Auction House is how you enjoy the game, I don’t have an answer for you… you’re really weird.

Removing Reforge

The concern is that it will change how effective you are in playing the game. That term, effective, is relative. If no one can reforge and if the game is tuned to account for a lack of reforge, then its absence won’t matter. We went a long time without reforging and it was fine.

Customization is important to many players (just look at the amount of time we spend transmogging and talking about specs). However, reforging isn’t really customizing your character. The bottom line is that most players (especially raiders) follow a set priority system. I certainly don’t run around Orgrimmar inspecting other players and then type “/g Hey guys! We got a Intellect-spec Warrior over here! How unique and interesting! I bet he has a fresh take on the game!” In fact, players routinely get ridiculed, even booted from groups, for being poorly reforged (where poorly means “not like everyone else”).

There’s always general anxiety about major changes. Before MoP, so (so, so, so) many people predicted that the new Talent System would be even more cookie cutter than before. At the time, I could envision the angst-ridden, know-it-all immature mind formulating those ignorant, I-know-even-though-I-can’t-possibly-know statements. From a PvE raid perspective, that prediction turned out to be totally wrong. I routinely change my talents between encounters. The only cookie cutter builds I know of belong to PvP. Yes, each boss may have a particular build that works better, but that’s not cookie-cutter, that’s just encounter-specific: “This is what works best in this situation.” Removing reforge will likely be the same. Bonus: we’ll save gold and time, especially when we get a new piece of gear in a raid.

The final reason reforge is going away probably has to do with other changes that are being made. The “one armor type for all” paradigm would be complicated by reforge. If I’m tank-specced and reforged for haste, then I swap to heals, how does that work? Do reforges drop off? I could easily see some people have to reforge several times a night.

The Time Travel Expansion

I don’t know what to say about this one. It is time travel in the sense that we do go back in time 30 years, but it isn’t in the “maintain or change our present” sense. There are all kinds of reasons time travel will likely always be impossible for us, thus making the game “less realistic”, but then again, I’d be arguing this point while a giant hammer slowly twirls as it descends above my head, healing me as I drop yellow holiness on the ground all around us.

I look at it like this:

  • it’s a storytelling device that lets us journey with some characters who existed only in the RTS and in lore. As someone who played the RTS series growing up, I’m stoked.
  • it’s a way to introduce newer players to some of the background.
  • it allows the players to see Draenor, which plays such a huge role in lore, in an entirely new light.
  • it adds tantalizing possibilities, such as (a) a portal to 30-years-ago Azeroth, with no Scourge; (b) the concept of interactions among different universes, such as in Heroes of the Storm; and (c) another possibility for connecting to the Burning Legion.
  • I just mass ressurected twenty four people after a huge dinosaur stepped on all of us. I’m really worried about realism?

As for those of you arguing that the storyline is silly or that it sucks: you’ve been wrong before. Why? Because you only have snippets of information. You’re assuming too much with too little (information, thought, etc.)

Profession Changes

I’m nervous about this one because I’ll probably have to learn how to maximize profits again. Currently, I like how much gold I can make thanks to professions. However, I don’t know how the changes will really play out. You don’t either. You can pay for the expansion and a month of game time to find out, then unsubscribe, or you can keep your money. It’s the same with any game, movie, vacation, etc.: you can pay to try or not. Also, apparently Blizzard no longer designs games just to make me wealthier.

Item Squish

Some of you need to math more.

If you have size issues, Blizz can’t help you. Fortunately, there are out-of-game professionals who can.

You wanted to hit for 10 million one day. As Bertrand Russell wrote “[T]o be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

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Warlords of Draenor: Why This Expansion Changes Everything

There was a time when, culturally, people didn’t think much about how time travel worked in terms of its effects on reality. I’m thinking of

    Back to the Future

as one example. In the last couple decades, however and for whatever reason, people have become much more savvy about time travel, even though it’s probably not a possibility. The most recent thinking about time travel that I have come across has been the Universe A and Universe B solution. Basically, Universe A discovers time travel, goes back, someone changes something, but instead of altering Universe A (which is where things get really sticky for storytellers), it creates a Universe B, which is the same as Universe A up until the point at which something was changed by time travel. Now, this solution is much, much cleaner than the alternative, but it still has its problems- all of which are complex, lengthy, and likely to bore or confuse the average reader. So let’s assume the Universe A/Universe B theory is what is happening in Warlords of Draenor and see why this can lead to some interesting possibilities:

  • What Hasn’t Changed? First, the basic rules of magic, science, etc. haven’t changed thanks to the expansion. We’re going back in time to an alternate universe (Universe B), one in which the Burning Legion failed to pollute the orcs, but in which Garrosh succeeds in rallying them to a common cause. Second, the orcs still come through a portal, but this portal takes them to post-Pandaria Azeroth (Universe A). We beat them back, but we go in after Garrosh and who-knows-why-else, so now we are in Universe B with a connection to Universe A… and the same basic rules of the universe.
  • Draenor Can Still Connect to Azeroth. Draenor is actually now a crossroads, when you think about it. It connects Azeroth of Universe A (ruined by Scourge, filled with awesome Pandas, etc.) to the Azeroth of Universe B (I’ll call it “AR-Azeroth”: no Scourge, theoretically no Paladins, no contact between Tauren and Human, etc.) The only thing stopping us from getting to AR-Azeroth is a big ol’ portal.
  • We Need a Crazy-Powerful (Crazy) Mage.
  • If only we could find a mage whose power is ridiculous, whose past is filled with bitterness and loss, and whose abandonment of the ethos that she once represented seems to be drawing nigh. If only such a person existed, that person might be tottering on the razor thin edge that was once the tightrope of Illidan and Ner’zhul and Arthas; that person might be standing on the precipice at the edge of cataclysmic change. Of course, they’d need a push… every tragic figure does (just ask Macbeth).

  • M is for Motive.
  • I’m sure you know who we need to step into the spotlight: Jaina Proudmoore, erstwhile rule of Theramoore, lover of Arthas, etc. Opening such a portal would allow her to see all the people she’s lost: daddy, lover boy, protege, mentor, etc. She is a nostalgic woman who has lost much. Now, she’s one huge portal away from returning to them.

  • It Sounds Crazy But…
  • Two angles here: lore and gaming. Lorewise, this opens up an entirely new world whose ancient past is already known to us, but whose recent past and future have gone in a different direction from our own. From a gaming perspective, it’s a chance to revisit places with which many players are familiar, but they’re also very different: Northrend ruled by the Aqir, the Blue Dragons, Ice Trolls, etc; the High Elves in their untouched homeland; the nomadic Tauren and ever-warring Trolls; Gilneas before the Worgen and Lordaeron pre-Scourge! I don’t know if it’s possible to really play out. It would be a massive expansion… a WoW 2.0 in a lot of ways.

    I’m not predicting this sort of future for WoW. For one, they have a lot of content in Universe A that we all want to uncover. Moreover, I don’t know if Blizzard has jitters after the Cataclysm expansion, the only real flaw of which was that there wasn’t a new world (like Pandaria or Northrend or Outland). For another, it’s clear that Blizzard is interested in crossing over as many of their games as possible (

      Heroes of the Storm

    strikes me as a renamed

      Project Titan

    that seeks to begin the process of integration. Imagine a gaming reality in which Starcraft players could affect WoW players even if they don’t play WoW. Would it be possibly to integrate, in some way, the two games? I don’t know. It would be complicated as hell.

    Just to tease that theory out, imagine you’re a Starcraft player. You really do things in a macro-sort of way, right? Everything you do is big and epic and has far-ranging consequences. Meanwhile, I’m a WoW player. I join in one big events, but it’s really a micro-view of the world. Could those two ways of going about missions be integrated in some other universe?

      Project TItan

    always seemed like the perfect cover name for a game that sought to do what Blizzard’s TItans did: create worlds and connect them together.

    Anyway, it’s just a theory.

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    WoW and the Married, Careered Adult

    This is in response to a post in r/wow. OP is coming back to WoW and wants to know how to balance family and work and the game. I don’t think I have the best solution, but what I do works for me and for the people who rely on me in-game. I love playing WoW (as my wife can attest) so this isn’t a casual player’s guide to playing twice a week. Also, caveat, I have a wife who has her own interests and understands that this silly game means a lot to me, making me luckier than a lot of guys. Here’s how I roll:


    1) Make Time for Others. If you don’t like your wife or your kids, I can’t help you. I love mine. I try to only be in the game when they’re otherwise occupied. I don’t get into committed activities (raids, dungeons, scenarios, etc.) if they may suddenly come home or suddenly start playing a family game or whatever. I recognize my situation (see below… and it’s a damn good situation) and I play around that. Making others work around your playing is when you run into trouble. Are there times I really want to play but I’m committed to watching a family movie? Yes. Do what’s right. The game will be there longer than your kids will be this age.

    2) Have a Routine. My wife got me believing in the power of routines (which is strange, because I am such a regimented person by nature) to keep life sane. I take care of my “To Do” list (see below) while she cooks and the girls play, then I get in the kitchen to help get food out, finish homework, clean up, etc. If there’s laundry to be done or floors to be swept, I do that while the girls eat. I’m not off by myself ignoring everyone (that comes later). I read the girls to sleep, then Keli and I eat (if she hasn’t finished cooking, I log in and mess around… she enjoys cooking and watching a show, so no time lost between us). Then, she and I hang out, eat, watch a show, laugh, and so on. Usually, it’s from 8 – 10 PM. Sometimes, it’s less time. Sometimes, it’s more. Sometimes, she says she has something else to work on. Whatever happens, I let her make the call, because that’s her time.

    3) Have Other Interests. If you’re skipping out on watching a game with friends or going to a book reading or camping with family because of WoW, you’re not being realistic about your situation. And that will cause your situation to change- usually for the worse. See below about this, but you need to understand your situation, decide why you’re here, and prioritize your time.


    1) Recognize Your Situation. I’m not a teenager with nothing but homework. I’m not a college kid with free afternoons to get my studying done. I’m not even a single adult with a job and an empty house at night. I’m a father with a career and a wife that supersede the game. I also enjoy working out and writing. WoW is part of my identity, but these other things are also part of me- and I want to be a complete person. I recognize my situation and that, in-game, I won’t have time to be the guy with six level 90 alts, the highest item level, the coolest pets or mounts, all the transmog outfits, 750k gold, and so on. In the two years I’ve been playing, I’ve amassed some rare pets (the Hyacinth Macaw being the rarest drop), some cool mounts (I found a Green Proto-Drake), some cool Transmog pieces (mostly weapons… I purposely make my outfits as hideously mismatched as possible, to horrify guildies), and so on. I keep 100k gold at all times, fluctuating from 100 to 150, but I rarely see something I can’t buy and want.

    2) Know Why You’re Here. I like raiding. I enjoy PvP, but not as much as raiding (and yes, I gave it a fair shot). I won’t get into the reasons, but if I couldn’t raid, I wouldn’t enjoy the game as much. I might even not play. The point, I don’t try to raid, PvP, have alts, make tons of gold, get every achievement, etc. That’s what people do who have more time (and that’s fine… it’s not like watching a football game or a sitcom or playing a board game is more meaningful) and I admire that they have the tenacity and opportunity. But I’m here to raid. So I found a way to do it: a guild with like-minded people in similar situations whose schedule and goals fit mine. We raid twice per week for three hours each time. We clear content and are in Heroic mode before the patch is over. I can go into LFR or Flex and be above or equal to most of the players. That’s why I’m here. Why are you here?

    3) Prioritize Your In-game Time. Knowing why you’re here makes this easier. As soon as I log in, I take care of the “To Do” list. For me, this means picking Motes of Harmony from the farm at Halfhill, doing the Ironpaw token quest, doing the Noodle Time (and Bonus Noodle Time) senario, and making the two MoP bars that have daily CDs. Then, I repeat on my alt. It takes me about 20-30 minutes, less if I focus and knock it out. After that, it depends. Some days, that’s all I do. Some days, I have enough time to move on to the “Responsibilities”, the things I need to do that keep me raiding. At the moment, that means having my gear right (gems, enchants, etc.), getting VP capped, and spending VP on upgrades. Again, I’m all about simplicity. I chain Heroic Scenarios with other high item level players. In an hour or so, I can get 300 VP, sometimes more. This, combined with the occasional LFR/Flex and the guild runs keeps me maxed out. And if I don’t have time that week, here’s a secret: not standing in stuff > having all your gear upgraded.

    Closing Thoughts

    I’m probably in a unique situation. I’m in a great guild that suits my goals and timeframe (these aren’t difficult to find, I’m told) and I have a work schedule that doesn’t have weird hours. I’m also a plate tank in a raid that only has one or two other toons who are competing with me for loot. But even so, most of what I’m able to do in the game is the result of the strategies I listed above. The bottom line is this: make sure your family and your career know they’re ahead of the game. Take a week off from playing during vacation; take a night off every so often; play when it’s convenient, don’t make it convenient to play (odds are you’re only making i convenient for yourself); and don’t treat the game like something you have to hide- if you’re honest about playing it, most people who care about you will respect that.

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    WoW: Player-driven Crafting

    I’ve obviously been doing a lot of thinking about World of Warcraft. So here’s another post on the game!

    If there’s one aspect of the game that is player-driven, it’s professions. It’s also an aspect that seems to have taken some hits since MoP’s release. I’m basing my thoughts on the idea that there are two kinds of players who max out professions: those who do it for the buff to their spec and those who do it to make that gold.

    The Problems

    Why mess with professions? Well, they’re kind of stale and predictable. Blacksmithing in 5.4 has bombed. Tailoring and Jewelcrafting are viable, but as the patch wears on, more and more players run out of need for jewels and bags.

    I crafted my first two plate pieces for myself and I’ll likely craft some more Ret stuff, but I don’t have much hope for them as money makers. Even the 5.3 Reborn series quickly lost profitability as Timeless Isle loot was easy and free (ain’t nobody dropping 40k for a 10 level upgrade). And transmogging has always been a niche- few players will pay for that kind of thing. In the end, the effort to craft the damn bars and buy the Living Steel and save up the Spirit of Harmonies is going to make it pointless. I’m going to get a complete transmog set of weapons, then I’m done with it.

    I would like to see more options within professions that make them valuable and interesting after everyone has geared up: stat differences, appearance, on-going need and better reward-to-gold ratios.


    Cookie Cutter Professions

    Normally, attaining the top level in a profession is the end, especially once you have “discovered’ the various cuts or recipes. I don’t think having to go out and find rare recipes off of drops is the answer. I also don’t think putting in something that has to be done is the answer. For some people, getting that buff and making some gold on the side is all they want from a profession. I’m of the ilk that like to play the AH, make the harder recipes, etc. and I’d like to feel like my efforts are worth it. So we need a balance- a process that rewards players like me while enabling other players to keep their buff and be able to make gold competitively within the profession.

    I’m imagining a “perfecting” process. For instance, after I ding 700 in Blacksmithing next expansion, I would then have the option to “perfect” my skills, which comes from actually crafting pieces- and not just throwaway pieces (see below). The level of perfection I attain gives me “attribute” points. When I make a chest armor, I can use these points to alter the stat distribution on an item. If I want to take 700 points from Mastery and move them to Haste, so be it. This would allow for some interesting gear and would give nerds (like me) something else to obsess over. It would also create a more capitalistic market: if someone needs Mastery-heavy gear, they’ll pay more for it rather than waiting for it to appear on the AH. Likewise, some wealthier players would pay good gold for the same armor slot that has various stats (their “Dodge” chest versus their “Mastery” chest, for example). Finally, though, this doesn’t penalize others in the profession who don’t want to worry with the perfecting process. They can still make the 625 ilvl gear with the same stats- but they’re limited to the basic stat distribution.

    Obviously, this isn’t limited to Blacksmithing; any crafting profession (other than glyphs, I suppose) can benefit from this kind of scaling. The gathering professions would benefit because demand would remain high as players continue to make and assemble various configurations of armor sets. Yes, some balancing and limiting would need to be set, but to some degree, the loss of one stat in favor of another will help keep everything scaled correctly.

    I’d also like to see more choices in the look of my craft. I don’t know how much of a hassle it would be, but being able to change the coloring would be nice, maybe being able to add in small design elements (spikes, insignia, etc.) to various pieces would enhance the value and make it feel worth the effort.

    On-going Need

    The crafting professions always suffer a setback as the patches progress. It just becomes more difficult to sell your wares because fewer players need them. Yes, this is attributable to player attrition- fewer players in-game means lower demand- but it’s also because many items are buy-once. I don’t know how far this can be taken, but something like having bags wear down and need patching; having jewels need buffing; having minor enhancements (a side pouch for a bag, for instance, which wears out after X weeks); or adding some items (I thought the portable tent-as-inn was a cool idea) that cause return buyers. Again, the gathering professions only benefit from increased demand.

    The Gold-to-Reward Ratio

    Already the 553 level stuff from Blacksmithing is being sold for half what it started at (I’m on a populated, active server, too) as players realize that (a) if you’re not in a raiding guild, having those legs and waist doesn’t matter much (two pieces does not a badass make) and (b) if you are in a raiding guild, they’re likely to pick up those items from a boss for free. Moreover, a Flex run will net an item that’s only 13 levels lower.

    I’m not arguing that players should be able to craft stuff that is above raid gear. I’m not even suggesting that being able to craft an entire set AT raid level is realistic. The current fact is that selling 553 plate, only a month into 5.4, is not worth the effort. Don’t believe me? Do the math (this mat assumes that you buy your own ore… if you farm a stack a day, that does make it “free”, if you want to spend your time that way):

    It takes 21 days to craft the waist, which amounts to about (7g/bar * 10 = 70g/day * 21 = 1470 gold spent). The waist sells (on Hyjal, a large, active server) for about 5k. That’s a 3k profit (assuming you were picky about the price of ore or bars). That’s about 1k/week of time. If you buy Spirit of War, forget about profit. Even at the 500g/SoW I have seen, it isn’t a viable way to speed up your earning potential. Further, these prices have plumetted for the reasons I mentioned above and will only continue to do so.

    Making 1k per week (and selling crafted armor is never a guarantee in the way selling reasonably priced jewels is) isn’t great. I could make more money by prospecting the ore.

    If the ability to redistribute points to crafted material was added, that might solve some of the issue. Another option would be to allow players to make full sets of things. Players who prefer to (or have to) raid LFR/Flex but who happen to make money easily would probably buy a crafted set if the item level was superior to what they got from those raids. Or what about a crafted set bonus similar to (but lesser than) the tier set bonus? Maybe that’s pushing it, but the point is that BSing just isn’t a money maker and it isn’t interesting. I keep it only because of the buff and because I’m a plate-wearer, so crafting my own stuff makes sense (also, each xpac usually has a dungeon-level set of gear, so it makes gearing up cheaper and faster).

    Checks and balances will need to be used thoughtfully, but they’re available. Considering that it took a month to make one Reborn set, I don’t think having a five-piece crafted 553 set is going to make any one person a bunch of money. And if a five piece set was available, the price would be high enough that only the few wealthiest players would have it within the first six weeks. Players like me- rolling around 100k in the bank- who raid are going to balance what a boss will likely drop against spending 30k on armor that might be useless in two months.

    Whatever is done about professions will have to be significant. As the crafting professions lose profit, the gathering professions will soon follow.

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    The Future of World of Warcraft

    I’m not going to add my voice the current speculation about WoW’s future. There are all variety of analyses available, ranging from the thoughtful to the fantastic. Some of the voices sound so credible that it can be easy to believe them. When I evaluate someone else’s predictions about the future of WoW, I consider two elements:

    • it is a game that is designed to appeal to a large number of players with a wide range of attributes;
    • Blizzard is a company that must balance producing the best product with the cost of production.

    One sign that a rumor is false is that it caters to far too many “player” wishes. There are lots of reasons Blizz wouldn’t go that route. For one, the internet thrives on the fallacy of the vocal minority. An idea gains traction, gets 100 posts, and suddenly people believe the mythical everyone wants it. As someone who doesn’t like many of the ideas I hear, I can confirm that people like me aren’t going to post our dissent. Too much arguing. For another, many of the ideas make the game overly complex, and not in a good way. There’s complexity like we encounter with boss mechanics, then there’s complexity like we encounter with noodle carts. The former makes the game more fun, rewards those who research and practice, and requires skill to execute; the latter simply requires work, some note-taking, and time- skill not required. Game designers are going to favor the former over the latter because the latter tends to drive away most players.

    There are plenty of other indicators that a rumor is false (it basically repeats past content or patterns; it draws on obvious possibilities; it is rather shallow in its imagining) but the bottom line is that we don’t know and won’t know. We don’t get paid to collaborate with other creative types on a storyline; we don’t have access to past ideas that were shelved; we don’t know what the overall vision is for the game. Imagining content is futile. However, we can imagine what the future of the game will look like in terms of process.

    In the past, Blizzard has shown that it prefers to implement various features slowly, judge reactions from fans and clear up in-game problems, then roll out the full implementation of their vision. We’ve seen such a progression since MoP released, a slow movement toward what is known as “sandbox” leveling. The term is somewhat misused, but it’s the popular one, so I’ll use it. WoW will never be a sandbox in the way Minecraft (or even Skyrim, as I understand it) is, but the trend has been toward less “directed questing”, for good or ill.

    If you’re not interested in reading how I came to my conclusions, just go to “The Future of WoW” at the bottom. The next section basically outlines my support.

    The Original Quest Line

    WoW began as a quest-based leveling process, a “Do This, Get This” proposition that also navigated players (who cared to read the quest lines) through the lore. The player was moving through the game in a manner similar to an RTS, but without control of other NPCs that formed an army. This was a personal RTS in a 3D world that provided two storylines: micro and macro. The micro-quest lines led to other micro-quest lines that told the story of individual zones and the various groups within them. These groups had problems, sometimes with each other, and the player fixed those problems. Thus, players who started out as Blood Elves learned about the troubles of the Blood Elves following the Lich King’s march in Eversong Woods and the Ghostlands. As they leveled up, players began to share zones, and storylines told the story of other groups (a small faction seeking to control and area; a tribe wanting to rid itself of a menace).

    Alongside these zone storylines, which were the stories of individuals and small factions, players could go through dungeons, which furthered other stories that connected to larger groups that were (often) connected to the macro-storyline (Burning Legion, Lich King, etc.) in some way. These two levels of storytelling culminated in the raid storyline, which revealed the underlying cause of the small questlines (e.g. Deathwing ruptured the world which led to most of the problems in those smaller stories) and also wrapped up the story.


    Changes of Pandaria

    Starting with MoP, the format changed a little. Initially, the leveling process was the familiar standard: follow the quests, do the dungeons, get the loot and the XP. But after hitting 90, players had a massive number of dailies that granted reputation with the various factions around Pandaria. While rep grinding has been part of WoW, MoP’s reputations were integral to advacement, including granting small amount of Valor Points.Hitting level 90 didn’t end the questing… it only enabled a player to start a whole new series of micro-stories that were mostly connected to the overarching story.

    But the dailies, themselves, were different than they had been. Some reps were vital to the storyline or provided the best gear available for the patch; some dailies could take place in one zone one day, then another zone the next day (Celestials); some dailies unlocked further dailies (Golden Lotus); and some were the traditional dailies (Anglers) and offered vanity bonuses.

    Blizz also wanted social gaming to return to WoW. Enter the “world boss” (Galleon, Sha) and “rare NPCs” that provided armor, etc. but were not connected to any questlines. The world bosses dropped items for players once per week; the rare NPCs dropped dungeon-level gear. Not that any of these were totally new ideas, but they did provide a little glimpse of the future: the build-your-own-adventure that required community interaction. In the case of the rare NPCs, though, most players waited until their item level was high enough, then went at them solo, undermining the intent (no community gaming and the gear was useless at that point).

    When 5.1 launched, the focus was PvP and the dailies were slightly more of a sandbox, as players could go beyond the dailies to gain Lion’s Landing Commissions, which provided benefits. Joining up with other players made the fighting easier, although as a Prot Pally, soloing the quests was easy enough. It does seem like being a squishy caster would have been difficult due to the sheer number of NPCs running around. There was also the kill-the-huge-animal-with-a-group arena, the name of which has escaped me. So, the directed questing was reduced, but still the central feature.

    In 5.2, the Isle of Thunder continued some aspects of these features, but there were clear changes from past dailies. First, the Isle was opened up only as players advanced the invasion- not quite the “player changing the world” sandbox, but a change from the traditional mode. Second, the patch opened up gradually as the server as a whole reached certain goals. Smaller world bosses respawned more quickly and player groups “farming bosses” filled the chat box, while the larger world bosses (including 5.0 bosses Gall and Sha, which respawned more quickly) also saw more action. The bosses served as a way to level alts or for players who didn’t raid to get higher item level gear. The Isle dailies formed a level 90 quest line, telling a cohesive story in the traditional format while directing player actions. Again, the dailies varied and unlocked further dailies, until eventually the player could complete a one-time quest line that rounded out the patch story (outside of the raid storyline).

    In 5.3, the action swung back to Durotar as our attention was directed to the brewing revolt against Garrosh. Battlefield Barrens was a weekly quest that encouraged players to group in order to protect a caravan or down one of a number of world bosses that spawned. Players could still complete the quest while soloing, but it wasn’t very efficient, and downing the world bosses required a large number of players. I don’t recall whether tag-to-faction launched in 5.3 or 5.2, but it definitely increased the size of groups attacking bosses. As a tank, it was something of a struggle unless you brought along a healer friend. Healing a group when you’re not actually grouped up is tricky. I’m not sold that BB world bosses was the sort of community questing Blizz would want: it was still a grind, players didn’t interact much, and by the end of the week (just before reset time), the killing was annoying as the higher level mains and hardcore players had already completed the quest, leaving the work to lower level alts and casual players who happened to log in.

    And Then Came 5.4

    The Timeless Isles have been a mixed bag, in my experience. I’m probably not a typical WoW player (if such a thing exists). I can play an hour, maybe two, a night, and I raid twice per week on my main. I occasionally have time to jump into LFR or a Flex, but LFR is frustrating because of the two or three players who have come in without so much as looking at the encounter notes and Flex is never a guaranteed event, especially as a tank (no one wants to add a third tank but everyone wants to add an extra DPS, QQ). I have one level 90 alt and an 84 I’m hoping will make 90 before MoP is over (I might get a level a week on him, though that should pick up since I remember MoP dungeons very well and will queue up for them without hesitation). With one main and two alts, there is a bottom line: I don’t have a ton of need for stuff for alts. “Gearing your alt” just isn’t a goal of mine. Even if I had more time, I don’t know that alts would matter much to me. I see them as fun ways to re-experience the game, but I don’t care much about their achievements or item level; I’m certainly not running more raids on them. They’re my main toon’s support staff, really, a way to get mats and increase profits, or to enjoy the game when I’ve done everything else for the week. I have guildies who talk about running LFR on their alts, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

    That said, all of this means that my perspective on TI is likely to be different from most players’.

    I enjoyed the running around, but to be honest, other than Ordos, there isn’t much there for me. Even the Celestial Tournament didn’t offer enough of a reward for me to learn the mechanics, get a group, deal with wipes, etc. I came in with a 528 item level and the only sub-530 item I had was my shield (and guess which item wasn’t available from TI? A SHIELD- Blizz really made shields a ridiculously difficult thing to have until 5.4 raids). It was a nice way to get some gear for my monk alt and for future alts, but the experience of running around looking for chests and killing stuff (on Hyjal, TI was crowded… if you didn’t pull the mob, someone else was going to do it before you could run past it) was lacking for me. I explored the island, killed each of the Celestials, killed the bosses, etc. but then I was done. I doubt I’ll be back until I get the cloak (side note: I stopped playing in July and August, so I’m behind on the damn cloak).

    I’m not suggesting Blizz did something wrong with TI (though Theck has a nice essay on the PvP side of it- I’m on a PvE server in order to avoid the complaints he lists), but the reward for the time spent wasn’t enough for me. I can wait for the loot to drop via guild raiding or I can get into a Flex raid, both of which guarantee me more than TI. If Blizz did drop the ball, it’s that killing Celestials isn’t going to reward a high level raider. Even without having done heroics, I came in to 5.4 geared above what the Celestials and TI could offer.


    The Future of WoW

    I’m not going to speculate on the storyline of the next expansion. No one saw Pandaria coming, as far as I have been able to tell. I doubt anyone will see the next expansion coming. I’m more interested in what that expansion will play like. WoW is at a point at which a choice will be made: sandbox vs. traditional.

    When I use the term “sandbox”, I’m limiting it to a WoW sandbox. A true sandbox (e.g. Minecraft) wouldn’t work in WoW because that’s not the experience I come for (nor do I see a lot of people who want that). This is a world with a storyline and I’m here to experience the storyline and take part in making certain events in the storyline play out. I’m also not sure that a more open-ended game is possible financially without losing content elsewhere. For example, say there’s an NPC and now I can choose to help or harm this NPC and my choice leads to consequences down the road… all well and good, but have I really done something to the game world? And does all of that programming and designing take away from the endgame content that I look forward to? I would rather have awesome dungeons and raids, personally.

    Would a new expansion done in a TI-style sandbox appeal to someone like me? Maybe. It’s easy to burn out on the old “Do This, Get This”. Then again, what will a sandbox leveling experience look like?

    Leveling to 100

    Or to whatever the next cap is at. I assume the storyline will still have to be told through NPCs with problems and that the player solving those problems will be the impetus for gaining XP and minor item upgrades. There are other ways of going about it, of course, but WoW is a story-based game. I don’t only want to explore a new land; I don’t only want to level up a toon and go raiding. I also want a storyline that explains what’s going on so that I feel like I’m part of an unfolding event. The MoP release (which was at 2 A.M. my time… I played for almost fourteen epic hours straight before I had to quit because apparently real life has needs) is a perfect example of this: I felt like I was part of this expeditionary force setting out for a new world. (It was also fun to watch the frustration of other players as they didn’t read the quest instructions and their addons (which hadn’t been updated) were broken and unable to help them.)

    Would a TI-style leveling process provide me the reward-for-time that I’m lacking at the moment on Timeless Isle? Maybe. Blizz would have to make certain the story is still being told, something that’s been lacking in TI. Maybe that’s part of the problem. I don’t feel like I’m connected to what’s going on. There’s the Emporer; there’s Ordos; there are giants running around alongside some animals; and then there’s the Yaungols. But none of these adds up to a storyline- certainly not on the level of Isle of Thunder, but not even on the level of Battlefield Barrens. Of course, TI is more of a filler, content for players who want to level alts or who are willing to spend time getting every conceivable rare drop. In the future, will TI turn out to be the ultimate way to zoom your alt through Pandaria? If it is, then it’s worth it, I suppose.

    So what would sandbox leveling look like? To be honest, I don’t care either way. I’m fine with the traditional quest lines because I understand that this is a game that is also telling a story. In a “realistic” setting (that’s humorous in this context, anyway), that cranky old farmer would not happen to have Leggings of the Cranky Old Farmer or Complainer’s Pitchfork for you to choose from in return for locating a needle in a haystack (or killing ten haystacks for one needle). So maybe there’s a possibility: players choose to solve various problems, earning XP and some coin or reputation that can purchase small upgrades. WoW’s one constant design mechanic has been the “small rewards” for players. Choosing which tasks to complete for various NPCs would eliminate the “quest chain” problem, anyway.


    The Real Problem

    Most players offer up instinctive criticism rather than thoughtful responses. If there are two main types of dedicated WoW players (lore-lovers and gamers), there are also several subtypes. It’s impossible to appease all of these people. Also, many interwebs posters are teenagers or college students, two groups I know very well. The sad truth is that most of them mistake being negative with being critical. Also, they believe their opinions magically support themselves. This is why you should ignore 98% or more of what you read in forums. It’s like listening to a idiot whose hormones are out of whack yell at a wall.

    Case in point: Pandaria was a beautiful set of zones built around an impressive storyline that also offered some great raiding (I can’t find the article that basically provded MoP raids were the most complex- not taking the longest but requiring the most strategy). Despite all of this, people still trolled the message boards, bitching without supporting anything they were writing. While we’re on that subject, if someone complains without supporting what they say, just ignore them. They’ll go away so much more quickly. Obviously, I don’t put much stock in player feedback, so I doubt Blizz does (at least not the unsupported sort).

    I would think about how to handle future expansions with these factors in mind:

    • The first run-through of an expansion isn’t really a matter of quest-based vs. sandbox. If the storyline is compelling, if the quests are interesting, if the landscape is refreshing and challenging, if the work is challenging but conquerable, the majority of players will be happy. Yes, people will complain. But everyone has to use the restroom after a great meal, right? Thus, leveling the first time through a zone in a sandbox-style progression might be an attempt to solve a non-problem.
    • The leveling of alts is the real reason players gripe about questing. I love Eastern Plaguelands. Every toon I have who is above 40 went through EP. But each time it gets a little more tedious, takes a little longer, etc. Trying it with different classes just isn’t enough differentiation for me. Of course, there are other zones at that level, but the basic problem remains: this is old content, I know the story, I saw what happened. I’m on this alt because I’m bored or because I want a level 90 Enchanter or because I want to raid with a caster. The weeks I spend leveling are not enjoyable. (And yes, if you’re a raider with a family and career, it does take weeks, even with BoAs.) Dungeons don’t always offer a great alternative for someone like me- they lock me into 30-45 minutes of playing (so if the kids need me or I get a phone call, I’m AFK) and there’s always the chance I get some bored troll, an elitist snob, or a bumbling n00b.
    • World PvP needs to be an option, but it also needs to be balanced. See Theck’s post about it on sacredduty.net. I’ll add this to his thoughts: I don’t even bother to quest flagged because Hyjal is so Horde-dominated that I rarely encounter any Alliance, but also because if I do get attacked, it’s usually when I’m at half-health after fighting an NPC. I get the “I like the realism” of the argument, but truth is, ain’t nobody (in my position) got time for that.
    • Players should have to earn their alts. All the XP bonuses are nice, but they’re really just a way to speed through content. They’re not a solution to the problem. A solution would be some method that a player who has completed a zone can access in order to level more quickly without (a) having to wait for other players on their alts to queue up, as in dungeons and (b) having to endure the endless quest grind (which is how the third run-through feels).

    I don’t know what the solution is, but Blizz usually (in my opinion) finds good answers. People who bitch about the game are often ignorant, emotionally-frustrated, trolling, or otherwise blind to the reality of game design. One solution might be to offer a set of solo scenarios available to players who have completed all the quests in a particular zone. This would take away having to queue up but it would also require that the player do something to earn the levels.

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