A Year in the World of Warcraft

November 23rd, 2005 by Potato

Wow, it’s been a year of WoW. And I can’t log into the servers. Not much has changed, eh?

The Paladin revamp has been not so much announced as snuck in on the test realm. It looks like Bliz is ashamed of it, and they should be. I’ll do a more in-depth review of the changes and the game on its anniversary later tonight.

For now, back to thesis revisions! (Will they never end?!)

Edit: Oh, I’ve been playing around with pages, trying to get all my recipes back up as a start to migrating the old site. It’s not quite what I was expecting. But check out what’s there on the right…

Edit2: Here it is, A Year in the World of Warcraft.

So in a nutshell, WoW is a massive multiplayer RPG. It’s cartoony and tons of fun, but it was seriously over-hyped and has had tons of issues that haven’t been resolved, no matter how simple they may be to fix (which is despicable, given the amount of money it makes).

I got into open beta, and played the crap out of the game: and with good reason, as just a year ago I had confirmation that I wouldn’t get a chance to defend that year (also with good reason, as I can see in hindsight, but it really really sucked at the time, and losing myself in a video game for 2 weeks was just what I needed).

My first character was a Dwarf Paladin named Potato (a very fitting name, I thought). In many games I tend to play the hybrid/paladin character. You get to fight the hated undead, heal the sick, and protect the weak. And that’s pretty much exactly how the Pally was hyped by Blizzard. The class, in a word, fails.

Sure, at the early levels it’s fantastic (and I only hit level 20 in the beta). There’s all kinds of power there, both offensive and defensive. But things really begin to taper off in the 40’s, and when you hit level 60 (the maximum level, and the point at which most of your time in the game is actually spent) the class is very lackluster. Combat consists of seal (sometimes judge) and wait. Maybe mix it up with a stun or heal now and then.

But since it was my first character, I just thought it was a slow game (and it is, but more due to slow mounts and flightpaths). It was only later with my priest, mage, and rogue that I realized how much potential is there to control the flow of combat, what the creeps do, how much damage you do and when…

Anyway, back around release there were tons of problems with the servers, like queues to log in, random disconnects, huge lag spikes, weird bugs (especially with mining nodes and getting stuck kneeling after looting — there was a great animation about this :)

Bliz worked hard (or claimed to) so that by Xmas the servers were stable enough to actually plan to go on and play. The cost was weekly maintainance, but we paid… For the next few months, the servers were actually fairly reliable, until patch 1.8 hit in October, and it’s been bad ever since. The login server dies almost daily, and random (and large) lag spikes hit, making the game unplayable some nights. Nice to know not too much has changed.

The game itself has some assanine mechanics to it. Like the spell damage armor — the amount it adds to a spell depends on the cast time, rather than the damage done or any other logical basis. The result is that most +ability gear pieces don’t add nearly as much to the gear as you might think. It also means that damage doesn’t scale well into the end game (WoW suffers a lot because most things don’t scale well as your gear improves… but some things do. By that I mean as you get the uber sword of head removal, a +9 to damage becomes less and less noticeable, whereas a +5% to damage always gives you that noticable 5%. Some things scale, most don’t). Or take mage water summoning. Mages have as part of their repetoir, oddly enough, the ability to summon water (which restores mana) out of nothing. But because the water only gives back a set amount of mana, as you get larger and larger mana pools with better gear, you find yourself drinking more and more water. The twist here is that as you learn a new type of water, you only cast a few at a time, and as that water becomes more obsolete, you get more water per cast, up to a maximum of 20. But at lvl60 when you get your final rank of summon water, you only summon 4 per cast (since it’s a new spell to you at that level). Yet since you spend most of the game at lvl60, it becomes highly annoying. Some mages have to log in 30-60 minutes before a raid so that they can summon enough water, 4 bottles at a time. That’s 30 solid minutes of pressing the same button over and over and over again. Obviously not a fun game mechanic… yet Blizzard thinks it’s all well and good, and actually tries to put up a face of having a deeper reason for limiting that sort of cast. (note, they did recently mention that it will soon get bumped up to 10 per cast… but why take so long to make such a simple change?).

More annoying is how they drag their feet on changes, no matter how painful the bug may be. Yet if there’s a bug that a player can use to their advantage, it gets “hotfixed” overnight.

Anyway, back to my Paladin whining. You see, in other classes, the healers are boring to play: you’re extremely vulnerable to being killed, and you just spam whatever healing ability you have until you run out of mana, and maybe throw a buff or two while you’re at it. To avoid that, Blizzard gave priests shadow abilities, so they could do decent damage (essential for soloing and PvP) as well as some neat additional spells (mind control being one of my favourites). But the Paladin fell into that roll. I don’t know why, but they changed the way the Paladin worked just a few days before release; from my understanding, they removed a lot of the melee abilities.

I can’t say I didn’t have fun with WoW playing my Pally — it was very addictive. But I can say that the class is the worst of any I’ve played, and I’ve enjoyed my priest much more. In hindsight, I should have rolled a druid, who are true hybrids. Coming up through the levels we had a decent seal (ability) available that buffed our attack speed… and that allowed us to have damage about equal to that of a warrior. But apparently that was a bug, because it got fixed and we’ve just never been the same. The next seal up was Seal of Command, which was essentially a bonus attack at random times. Since it scaled with your weapon damage, it quickly became our best ability to use to increase damage, even if it was kind of boring (there wasn’t even any point to judging it).

So anyway, the class came up for review, we gave our feedback on the forums, and the devs came back with “STFU, working as intended.” There was a huge outcry from Paladins, and after much waiting and hand-wringing, we finally got a review to try to improve the class. There were 4 main items on the agenda to be fixed. First was the utter tedium of our blessings — recasting every 5 minutes on 40 people took up most of our time in big instances like Molten Core. Next were our heals, of which we have 2: one is a decent heal, but is too slow for snap healing (PvP, emergencies). The other has good mana efficiency, but lousy healing per second (it’s too slow for what it does, and in an absolute sense, doesn’t do enough). We would have liked to see an instant cast heal, even if only as a talent, since we are supposed to be able to heal while taking a beating. Thirdly was our damage, which was the worst in the game (even below true support classes like priests and druids in caster form — though that last one was arguable rather than absolute), which we could live with if we could tank or heal decently, but to add insult to injury, it was entirely beyond our control. Cast a seal and wait for the random number generator to do its thing. Ugh. Finally, despite being one of only two classes that can wear plate armour, we can’t actually tank very well because we don’t have the ability to generate hate (that is, to get the monsters to beat on us rather than our squishy friends). There is some rudimentary ability there, and with a good group who works with you to keep the hate on you, you can tank as a pally… but it really could have used an improvement.

Now it’s one year later and our changes have finally been announced… and hardly anything of substance changed. Healing is no better (in fact, it’s worse because the talents that did improve it are buried deeper in the holy tree, preventing you from getting them and something else). Our overall damage looks to have improved slightly, but with only miniscule extra control, and I don’t think our ability to tank has improved at all.

It’s as though there were two completely separate companies behind WoW: the one that almost finished it and made a really fun & addictive game, and the one that completely bunged up releasing and maintaining it. That might not be too far from the truth, since rumour has it that many of the core developers and designers left shortly before the game hit retail.

But it is fun for the most part. I especially like getting to play with my RL friends. The best times were in Loch Modan with Reggie. We both played pallies, and he would start off tanking on a fight while I healed him, and then we’d instinctively change roles when my mana ran low or what have you. No communication necessary :)

Sadly, much of that is gone now. Many people have left the game, or almost as bad, left the guild to do the “hard core” endgame stuff. I just don’t have the time to devote to that kind of stuff, and every time I get spam for gold buying sites, I think of selling my account (I could likely make enough to pay for the the cost of the subscription so far). But we’ll see how it goes. I had Wayfare hooked for a bit, but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much (largely because the trade skills & fishing suck, and she’s not a big dungeon runner).

As for the hype, unfortunately I don’t have records of what WoW was going to have exactly, but I remember reading about the cool things, like Hero units and Life Quests (basically quests you would work on throughout the life of your character to give them some added abilities). There’s virtually no customization aside from a few talent points and gear — one level 60 paladin performs much like the next. I thought that it wasn’t going to be like that…

But I think by far the biggest disappointment has been the Player vs Player content in the game. They have languages and faction reptuation, which seems perfectly primed to align yourself based on your actions… possibly even betraying the race you started with to go work for the other side. That sort of thing was hugely common in the RTS versions of Warcraft, and the background lore indicates that as well, seeing as how this is supposedly a bit of a cold/early war period. But instead, you are permanently locked in battle with the other side. There are “dishonourable kills” that should take away your reputation, even with your own side, but in reality just affect your “rank”.

One thing I was really looking forward to was participating in “epic” battles to claim towns, fighting against other players and NPC town guards to overthrow the mayor/general, raise the flag, and watch as NPCs from my faction streamed in to rule the place. I have no idea what happened to that, if it was ever truly in the game, or if that was just from a preview I saw. It sounded like a neat idea, anyway. Of course, I can see it being a problem, since most servers have an imablance in terms of the population that is loyal to each side (for the most part, Alliance outnumbers the Horde).

So, one year later, and I think that the game could be much better than it is. It certainly opened my eyes (and my wallet) to the monthly subscription format, which on its own almost killed my willingness to get the game. But despite the flaws and the obvious places for improvement, the game is oddly addictive, and I still play it, and probably will continue to play it as long as I’ve got friends in there (or until I get a good enough offer on my account :). Overall though, I think I’d rather be back to 2 years ago playing WarCraft III with Rez, Netbug, and Inx (plus occasional cameos by Gloth and Gutter, and almost Reggie). I actually installed it during the summer and played a few games. It was fun, and part of me missed it more… but the other part realized that we all quit right around the time the expansion came out, and a lot of things changed in The Frozen Throne, and it’s not really the same game (I know I’m no good at it anymore, and I used to be).

So guys, let’s get together sometime and play something together. I’m not too picky. StarCraft’s always good, as is WarCraft III. Empire Earth was fun with the guys from work… or, since we all have fairly new computers, we could actually try a new game.

Edit3: Oh, I forgot about the last thing to complain about! The PvP system was much hyped but didn’t make it into the retail release. Instead a very different system came in sometime in the winter months (February?). It introduced ranks (from Private through Knight and Grand Marshall) that depended on the number of kills you get in PvP combat. And that’s it, just kills. You could get 100 kills and die 1000 times in the process (which would indicate you’re a lousy PvPer) and get exactly the same rank as someone with 100 kills and 10 deaths. To add insult to injury, you only get credit for a kill if you’re alive at the time: so if you and a buddy are both beating on an enemy warrior, and the warrior kills you just before dying himself, you get no credit for the kill.

It’s a system that heavily favours so-called “DPS” classes (that is, classes designed to pump out damage rather than heal or defend; heavily offensive classes). Which is very odd considering how in almost all of Blizzard’s other games (and several other RPGs) going for a healer, defensive, or offensive character are all equally viable options. On top of all that, the ranking system requires exponential increases in kills to get to the highest ranks. And since your record has nothing to do with it (unlike WarCraft III), the person to be dubbed “highest ranked” on the server will simply be the one with the most time available to devote to aquiring kills. Entire guilds get behind an effort to promote one of their members to Grand Marshall, and even with underhanded tactics such as making agreements with players of the other faction to trade kills as quickly as possible, it takes something like 12 weeks of playing the candidate character for 12-16 hours a day (often in shifts, with multiple players playing the same character). So far, no one I know who’s reached Grand Marshall has said the effort was worth it, and all of them have required at least a short break from WoW after the ordeal.

4 Responses to “A Year in the World of Warcraft”

  1. rez Says:

    Best post so far. Made my morning tea and bran muffin taste all the better.

    I played WoW only during the open beta, and I found it was a good game, but too similar to the last MMORPG I played (FFXI) to make it worth my while to shell out $15, or however much it was, each month. The one big thing that really turned me off it, though, was the whole Horde vs Alliance deal. I love Trolls and Tauren, but it seemed liked everybody else was a Night Elf. It was aggravating that I couldn’t play with my RL friends because they were all Alliance. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how the game has progressed over the last year.

    I would love to play something. I’ve been looking for a Civ4 opponent to no avail. I don’t think I’d play StarCraft or WarCraft again, but if something new and interesting pops up I’m willing to give it a try. It’s too bad you don’t play first-person shooters…

  2. Potato Says:

    Ah, yes, I had heard that Civ4 had been created, but gave the nasty rumors no ground in my mind — Civ3 was addictive enough, thankyouverymuch. That said, I might launch a more in-depth investigation into the existence of such game closer to the holidays…

    As for playing on the Horde… while my mains are all Alliance, I’ve been meaning to work on my shaman or start a horde druid. I know Wayfare was eager to get back to her undead warlock…

  3. baum Says:

    man all this talk makes me want to get back into the game, yet it also reminds me why I left it… its too addictive for a person like me.

    nice post though

  4. Netbug Says:

    You need to put that post on the WoW forums.

    I’m still loving my paly at 52. And for some reason (probably retrib?) I am getting SoCo crits for upwards of 800 (on top of a normal vengence crit of like 400). I am pulling and holding agro from warriors (I was partied with Jeanette [60 Nephilim paly] doing dragonkin menace and she couldn’t keep them off me. And fighting undead… man… 4 palys in Strath or scholo is going to be my favorite way of farming at 60, I know it.

    The class I have real trouble with is the hunter… my hutner herself is fine, it’s the damn pets that I don’t get. I haven’t trained anything other than spot and I have no clue where to get the other abilities.

    I wish more of our RL friends played it. I miss WCIII too. I was hoping they would announce Starcraft 2 at BlizzCon, but alas, no such luck. I have assurances from people inside that it IS being worked on… but… you know blizzard.