Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Lord of the (Lich) Kings, or, There Not Back Again

I can't go back to World of Warcraft.

I want to sometimes. The new expansion pack certainly appeals to me. I miss the world, the exploration, the camaraderie when times were good. I miss the setting and the storyline and the music. And part of all of that are the reasons I can't go back. Wrath of the Lich King wasn't something that I, as a WOW player and a fan of the storyline of Warcraft III, could miss. And I missed it all - lack of money and decent internet connection being the primary culprits.

For those who don't know. The second expansion pack was the culmination of the storyline started in Warcraft III and its expansion. That game was in large part about the corruption of the human paladin Prince Arthas, and his rise as the Lich King, the embodiment of evil on the world of Azeroth. Although there is some backlash now against Blizzard's overly epic, humorless storylines, I remain a fan of them.

In most story-based video games, the designers seem unwilling to have their villains actually commit atrocities or raise the stakes for the players. Not so with Warcraft III, which not only had villains who did things like kill their father then use his ashes to summon an archdemon, but actually had you, the player, control them on their destructive path. Arthas' rise as the Lich King in the final cinematic of the game represents both the player's great success in finishing the game, and a horrific experience for the game world and its inhabitants, which you also sympathize with after having completed several campaigns in Azeroth. It's a neat little storytelling trick.

World of Warcraft, of course, makes you a character within that world, trying generally to set right the horrors of its predecessor's storyline. The villains of the original WOW release and its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, were occasionally new to the universe, but they were generally progressively more dangerous villains from Warcraft III, leading inexorably to the Lich King in his expansion pack. I played some of the original game, and was a pretty hardcore raider for a few months during The Burning Crusade. I'd say I was invested in the storyline, but that's not entirely true - WOW doesn't have much of a storyline. It might be more accurate to say that I was invested in its representation of Warcraft III's storyline. I liked the feeling that it gave of being one of the small soldiers of the strategy game, but building up to become someone special, capable of heroic feats. And that part of the game was a major part of what I was invested in.

That's not all of it, of course, either on my end or on Blizzard's end. Of course they should continue making expansion packs if people are interested. They have a good game, and they're raking in cash. More power to them! And of course the storyline should continue after Lich King, and of course it's not a bad thing to have the nominal Foozle killed in an early expansion pack (did you know that Everquest has had seventeen expansions?) while your game is still relatively fresh. I will also grant that it's personal. My guild, formed towards the start of The Burning Crusade, collapsed not once but twice. Many of my best friends in the game during that time are no longer playing.

It's just that for me, the biggest appeal of going back to World of Warcraft would be seeing Northrend and fighting Arthas. And I've missed the bulk of that. Everyone will have already done this - and I haven't. The things I might want to do will be played out. Passé. Unpopular both in the colloquial sense and in the sense that the things which require a group to accomplish will no longer have people motivated to do them. It would be like a Star Wars game without the ability to take on Darth Vader, or Lord of the Rings where both Saruman and Sauron had been killed and you were suddenly supposed to believe Smaug was a bigger threat.

This is an odd feeling. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that in today's media world, it's almost unprecedented. There is always a fascination with the new - seeing a movie on opening night, or seeing a band as they're starting to make it big, or playing a game system at launch, yes. But by and large, there's also a trend towards making media consistently accessible. Old books, movies, and albums have almost always been available, and games are becoming more and more consistently available due to remakes, emulation, and downloads like the Wii's Virtual Console. Virtually everything can be experienced later on, and sometimes in a better format, than it was when it was initially released.

Except for massively multiplayer role-playing games. For these, you really do have to be there. Many of them have collapsed, and no longer even have servers to play upon. Virtually all of them have expansion packs or major patches which render some or much of their content obsolete or unplayable. As someone interested in media, this concept intrigues me. As a historian who' is interested in video games, it disturbs me. And as someone who is, by nature, curious and wants to know everything about everything, it horrifies me.

So I can't go back to World of Warcraft. It's probably for the best, anyway. I'm hearing good things about The Old Republic anyway. Maybe I'll be ready for a new MMRPG when it comes out.


Jonathan said...

The only MMORPG that I've ever been particularly interested in trying is LEGO Universe. Hopefully it won't suck (and I'll have a job with disposable income, etc).

I got excited about Star Trek Online at one point, but "ships shooting up things real good" wasn't exactly why I liked Star Trek to begin with.

Rowan said...

Star Trek Online would have been pretty impressive if it had focused on the players calling meetings to discuss possible options for resolving vague diplomatic impasses.

Along those lines, the Renaissance Poet and I have been watching TNG and I haven't been hating it. Especially when proto-G'Kar shows up.

Codicier said...

I think Blizzard are aware of this issue, There is a clear disconnect between and players new/returning to WoW & the established community.

The Meta game of high level raiding in particular is not very newcomer friendly. Especially as it has taking min maxing to the level of a arcane science.

The new expansion Cataclysm certainly seems to be a direct response to the sort of concerns you raise, they are really doing their level best to wipe the slate clean at the lower levels, as well as simplify the higher level meta game and place greater emphasis on social interaction through guilds.

I think they realize that some of the competition, in particular Arena Net's Guild Wars 2, & Bioware's The Old Republic are upping the game, and that they need to respond.

On a side note: have you allowed curiosity to get the better of you and read/watched the conclusion now you have decided not to return to the game?

Renaissance Poet said...

I think Star Trek Online would be cool if it followed the premise of Next Gen: prove the worth of humanity to Q. And, of course, I'd like to manipulate Troi.

Rowan said...

@Renaissance Poet - Race: Betazoid. Special Ability: Senses and announces combat five seconds before combat begins.

@Codicier - Like I said, some of those things appeal to me (although the raid changes I heard about from Wrath seem to have already simplified things in ways I'm unsure of).

But the biggest thing - and perhaps the only thing - that I think they could do that would make me interested in rejoining would be to make old content relevant again. There should continue to be reason to raid Illidan, Kael, Ahn-Qiraj and of course Arthas beyond nostalgia.

If they updated the difficulty and item drops with each expansion, like they did with Naxxramas for Lich King, I wouldn't feel like I'd missed something I really wanted to see when I played.

And in answer to your last question, I've read some of what happened in the storyline, but without the context of playing that story, it was mostly meaningless. My main memory of Tirion Fordring is that I spent too much time doing his quests around 60 when I really should have switched to Outlands.