Wrapping up for the Winter

Wotcha everyone,

Wrath of the Lich King.  Warcraft’s new expansion.  I have to mention it at some point, because for me to try and ignore its imminent release would be like trying to ignore the imminent arrival of Winter.  No matter how much I might run around in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts (geographical dressing FTW!), it’s still going to get colder and colder.

So, here is me putting on a big woolly jumper and a scarf.

Will I be playing Wrath of the Lich King?  Probably.  At some point.  Hopefully, my mates who still play World of Warcraft will froth at me about it, in the hopes that I will join them.  If they don’t, it will be because it’s rubbish, or they don’t want to spend time in my company.  Either option would be bad.

Good games are good for all of us.  It keeps raising the bar, it means that standards rise, and that means that we all get to play better games.  So a good Wrath of the Liche King is great for everyone.

But I don’t want a repeat of the playing carnage that was Burning Crusade.  An entire server in one zone, desperately trying to level as fast as possible?  No, no thanks.  Neither would be trying to play whilst thousands of Death Knights are desperately trying to get to level 80 to assure themselves a place in their raid.

I might play later, but not at launch.

But there is something about the launch of Wrath of the Lich King that vaguely disturbs me.  And that’s a continuation of something that really started to strike me during the closed beta, NDA days of Warhammer Online.

For me, one of the things I love about online games is getting out there and discovering stuff.  I don’t have to see every single square foot of the world, but I love discovering things.  I love discovering the plots arcs, and taking part in them.  I love seeing the various places, and discovering what sort of trez there is to get.

Yet more and more, it seems that letting all those juicy little secrets out is part of the marketing campaign.  Now, I haven’t bought gaming magazines for a while, but this month’s PC Gamer has a number of pages dedicated to Wrath of the Lich King spoilers.  I can only assume that there have been similar amounts of NDA leakage to gaming websites as well.  Whether there’s more or less leaking than for Warhammer Online’s launch I have no idea, and nor do I care to find out, but something does worry me.  Is one of the reasons that we look for these leaks to give us a leg up, an advantage over our fellow players, rather than to help us form an opinion about a game, and if we should spend our hard-earned spoondoolicks on it?

It’s quite likely that I’m going senile, but I remember a time, a much gentler time, when gaming was about fun.  It was about levelling your character, so you could do different fun stuff.  It was about “ooing” and “aahing”, and generally going “squee!” when something nice dropped.

And then, somehow and somewhere, that ceased to be the case.  Suddenly it was about getting to maximum level as fast as possible, with the levelling content being there purely to stop you getting bored and going elsewhere.  Suddenly it was all about the epixxx, and moaning because “your” item didn’t drop.  Again.

Will Wrath of the Lich King change this?  Will it bring peace and love back to online gaming?

Or is Wrath of the Lich King just another excuse to wave our e-peens about the ether, in the way that Warhammer Online, and the rest of the current wave of 2nd Generation Online Games have been doing for some time now?

I really, really hope it’s great.  That it becomes more than the sum of its parts.  That it brings happy joy-joy feelings to online gamers everywhere.

Most of all, I’m really hoping they’ve got rid of the grind, because that’s what keeps sucking all of the fun out for me.

Cheers,
Hawley.

What is Blizzard thinking with WoW PvP?

I’ve been keeping vaguely up to date with the Wrath of the Lich King beta. And because it’s in beta and a lot of decisions still aren’t set in stone, I never thought there was much point pontificating too much on their plans. But what they are planning with PvP and the PvP gear right now puzzles me a lot.

Currently you can run battlegrounds (like scenarios in WAR) and earn honor points from them which you can spend to get gear. You can run arena (a totally separate ladder system based on 2/3/5 man group deathmatches in small arenas) and get a different set of arena points which you can spend to get better gear. Some pieces can only be bought with honor gear.

Arena can be much more of a hardcore prospect, battlegrounds can be queued for solo (like scenarios, you get put into a raid group when you zone in) so can be more casual.

They had originally planned to wipe all of the honor and arena points when the new expansion hit so that people couldn’t save them up and use them later to buy level 80 PvP gear. The idea being that everyone started with a blank slate and would be running battlegrounds together. Which is not a bad plan. Then due to screams of overreaction, they decided instead to leave the existing points but heavily inflate the prices for the level 80 gear, whilst giving out more points at level 80. So effectively doing the same thing but letting people keep ‘their’ points, even though they’ll be mostly worthless.

So far so good. But then Kalgan (one of the Lead Game Designers) posts this on the forums. And here he sets out their plans very clearly. There will be craftable gear for people starting out in PvP to use in battlegrounds. But all the better quality gear will require both arena points and battleground points. So the casual players who ran a few battlegrounds for fun will be pushed into arena if they want to upgrade, and the arena players will have to run battlegrounds.

See this is exactly what I mean about giving players the illusion of choice. If I hate arena (and a lot of people do, it’s very different from queueing up for Alterac Valley when you’re bored and have a free moment) then why force me to do it? And in PvP, the quality of your gear directly affects your survivability which affects your FUN. It really isn’t fun to be rolled the whole time by people with better gear. In the current system, although the arena gear is better, the stuff you can get from battlegrounds is still good. So there are effectively 2 upgrade paths. They don’t plan to do this in the expansion.

Kalgan’s comment:

That aside, it is important for me to point out that the arenas were never really meant to become quite as much of a focal point for the overall pvp game as they have (part of why we set the system up so players could get the full benefit from the system with only 10 total games per week), it’s more of a natural consequence of the fact that because we have a way to measure success that feels reasonably balanced against pve, we’re able to put high-end items there, which on its own creates the focus of importance.

So arenas weren’t planned to be so dominant but they’re going to go with it anyway. He has no answer for people who hate arena and liked battlegrounds for their casual-friendly nature except ‘get skills, noob!’. I’m reading this and thinking about how much fun I’ve had with PvP in WAR, and I’m sad to see a good game like WoW deliberately make itself unfun in that aspect.