Like most of you, IÃ‚'ve read a lot about World of Warcraft since the beta began, and frankly itÃ‚'s all kind of a blur.Ã‚Â While I appreciate the host of previews available, and that Blizzard isnÃ‚'t holding testers under a NDA, I donÃ‚'t think IÃ‚'ve ever gotten a good feel for what itÃ‚'s like to actually play the game.Ã‚Â These previews are usually overflowing with information Ã‚– often by necessity, for there really is a lot to talk about - but they are too often impersonal and usually indistinguishable from one another.Ã‚Â They are a laundry list of features and screenshots, hundreds of thousands of words that IÃ‚'ve consumed ravenously but rarely coalesce into a coherent image for me.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'m not saying that my endeavor is destined to be meaningfully different, but IÃ‚'d like to take a slightly different tack on the approach.Ã‚Â Instead of producing one bulky article with everything packed in, I figured IÃ‚'d cut the discussion into individual bite sized portions, so that in the minutia you might get a better feel at what the play experience of WoW is actually like.Ã‚Â
In that spirit, I offer this first World of Warcraft diary.
I snuck my way into the World of Warcraft beta just last week, and with a great sense of anticipation bordering on the near giddy I downloaded and installed the client.Ã‚Â I am certainly an admirer of BlizzardÃ‚'s endeavors in the past, though not a Ã‚"˜fanboyÃ‚'.Ã‚Â Where Warcraft 2 certainly ranks as one of my all time favorite games, I was never quite as captured by Starcraft or Warcraft 3.Ã‚Â I could certainly appreciate their technical and stylistic accomplishments, but they did not last as a gaming experience for me.Ã‚Â I have enjoyed Diablo 2 more than most other games, but I never really struggled into the upper echelon of its eventually tedious leveling.Ã‚Â With the possible exception of Warcraft 2, IÃ‚'ve always managed to maintain perspective enough to keep BlizzardÃ‚'s games an entertainment outlet and not a lifestyle.Ã‚Â I mention this not just to establish some degree of credibility but in the interest of full disclosure about the frame of mind with which I approached the beta.Ã‚Â I was certainly excited about the game, but not to the point where I would be unable to see any flaws.
LetÃ‚'s also be clear that this isnÃ‚'t a completed project that we are discussing, and as a beta I really hesitate to pass much judgment on the game either way.Ã‚Â But, enough with the qualifiers.Ã‚Â LetÃ‚'s talk about how it feels to step upon the face of Azeroth, and into the World of Warcraft.
Character Creation: Well, actually before stepping anywhere I needed a pair of feet upon which to step.Ã‚Â I hate to start this diary on a downer, because thereÃ‚'s so much to enjoy later, but I found myself as disappointed with character creation as anything in the game thus far.Ã‚Â Perhaps IÃ‚'ve just become spoiled by games like Star Wars Galaxies Ã‚– and this will likely be the only point where I compare SWG as a superior experience to WoW Ã‚– with their detailed levels of character customization, but World of Warcraft barely comes up to the base standard set by Everquest (pre-expansions) in designing your personal look.Ã‚Â You click a few boxes to choose sex, race, and class; choose a face (all of which basically look the same), a hairstyle, skin and hair color; choose a name and then load up.Ã‚Â Thus far this leaves pretty much everyone in the world of shared race looking virtually identical on the surface, with only clothing, armor, and weaponry left to distinguish one character from another.Ã‚Â Eventually this may pan out to be a minor issue, particularly as more user crafted and special gear is discovered or introduced Ã‚– after all IÃ‚'ve pay attention to the contorted false faces plastered on other characters Ã‚– but still, IÃ‚'ve become spoiled and expect more.
For the primary purposes of this diary I created a Human Paladin named Lysion, though IÃ‚'ve also created an Undead Warrior and an Orc Shaman so I can get a fuller flavor of the game, and hope to try everything at least once.
Sticking With What Works Ã‚– The first thing you notice when taking control of the game is that the interface just makes sense.Ã‚Â Everything is intuitive, and without ever looking at a page of detailed instructions and commands I could rely on my experience in the genre to get me around in a more than functional way.Ã‚Â If thereÃ‚'s one thing for which I can really applaud Blizzard, itÃ‚'s knowing when not to reinvent the wheel.Ã‚Â Picking and choosing the proper place for novelty is a skill seemingly as difficult as the creation of innovation itself, but I still find myself annoyed when introduced to a game IÃ‚'m anxious to play but become hampered by an unnecessarily complex and unwieldy interface (see: Final Fantasy XI).
Why Am I Here? Ã‚– I recall when I first played Everquest, appearing in a fully realized three-dimensional world, my character birthed in some dank back alley of Qeynos with a muddy stick as a weapon and carrying a note which read, and IÃ‚'m paraphrasing, Ã‚"Take this note to your trainer Billy Bob Smegma.Ã‚"Ã‚Â I wandered the streets of Qeynos for some time after, note in hand, searching for Mr. Smegma who was hidden some random distance away under a desk, in a dimly lit basement Ã‚– or thatÃ‚'s at least how it seemed.Ã‚Â When I handed him the note he gave me a curt nod, tossed some shabby rags my way, and then ushered me back out the door.Ã‚Â Later I found a rat and it killed me.Ã‚Â I shouldÃ‚'ve put the game away right then and there, Lord knows what I might have done instead with those hours upon hours.
My point is that itÃ‚'s nice when a game not only eases you into the role youÃ‚'re to play, but does so with some sense of purpose no matter how commonplace the task given is.Ã‚Â If IÃ‚'m taking a note to Stinky Bill over behind the grain silo, I want to at least believe that my taking that note plays some larger role in a grand scheme.Ã‚Â And, at least to start with, IÃ‚'d also like a map, fairly explicit directions, and some idea of what I can expect in return.Ã‚Â Far too often in the genre a player quickly finds himself with little direction in a massive, too often barren world, with no sense of purpose or involvement.Ã‚Â To my extreme pleasure such was not the case with my first hours in Azeroth as my quest log quickly offered a variety of directions for me to explore.
I feel like itÃ‚'s important to note that not once in my first 10 levels did I get to a point where I lacked a quest to fulfill and had to resort to mindless leveling to forward my character.Ã‚Â It was not always glamorous work, but I always had something to do, some goal to achieve, and more often than not I had my choice of jobs.
I Seek the Holy Grail Ã‚– Of course, lots of quests means nothing if theyÃ‚'re boring.Ã‚Â I think this has been my biggest problem with instanced quests in games like Anarchy Online, Galaxies, and even to a slightly lesser degree City of Heroes.Ã‚Â LetÃ‚'s take Galaxies as an example, though.Ã‚Â My Rodian Tailor, in his spare time outside of making Wookie Pants, spent his vast spare time in the vacant expanse of a variety of worlds seeking fortune and resources.Ã‚Â Instanced missions were a nice means to this end, but there was something wholly unsatisfying about being asked to kill your third consecutive random animal nest of the day.Ã‚Â It was busy work, barely as challenging and interesting as drying the dishes.Ã‚Â The mission generator might as well have said, Ã‚"Do random action 175 for [difficulty plus player level multiplied by constant] credits.Ã‚"Ã‚Â Inspiring stuff, no?
Look, not every World of Warcraft quest has been an epic adventure of itself, but at least theyÃ‚'ve all taken the time to put the quests into a larger context and even into something of a twisting narrative.Ã‚Â Your actions lead to additional quests that when put together begin to tell a story.Ã‚Â IÃ‚'d have been much more satisfied killing rats in Everquest if IÃ‚'d had some extended narrative context to put the endeavor into, itÃ‚'s called suspension of disbelief and itÃ‚'s far too rarely paid any attention.Ã‚Â So far World of Warcraft has given me that.
Additionally, there are a good number of stand-alone quests that lend character, depth, and a sense of place to the world.Ã‚Â One notable early Undead quest that Certis and I embarked upon revolved around a small human pumpkin farm that had cropped up in our territory Ã‚– presumably all the decomposing dead stuff left some good pumpkin growing nutrients in the soil.Ã‚Â To punish these infiltrators we were set upon the task of stealing some of the pumpkins even as the farmers defended their small parcel of land swiping at our exposed bones with pitchforks.Ã‚Â It was, by many accounts, an utterly ridiculous quest, and yet the fun of being an undead pumpkin stealer was undeniable.Ã‚Â Part of it was that the presentation was solid, and the rest was simply that IÃ‚'d never done anything like this in a MMOG before.Ã‚Â I had a similar personal experience early on with Lysion as he went through a complex series of steps to reunite star-crossed lovers separated by feuding families.Ã‚Â It was texture to the game and world, and itÃ‚'s the kind of polish that IÃ‚'d hoped for from Blizzard.
IÃ‚'m going to stop here, not because I have nothing left to say, but because of that whole bite-sized portions thing I spoke of.Ã‚Â ThereÃ‚'s plenty more to speak of, including the discussions of art style, character advancement, and world content, but that will have to wait for now.