Please forgive the clickbait title, all will become clear very soon. I’ve been playing games since the late 1970’s. Let’s just let that settle in for a second: disco was very much alive and well, only three channels of TV in the UK, Internet not even considered. My first experience of competitive gameplay was Pong, and I was awful. I hardly ever won. Then came the first BBC B in my household and Elite, and I was atrocious at that. In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve been terrible at just about every video game I have ever played in a competitive environment across four decades. The only bright spot in all of this (apart from an occasional first place on Mariokart 8) is Warcraft. Here’s the game I actually got good at. It’s the place I feel I finally belong. I wondered if it was hyperbole, but actually it’s not. Warcraft is the Best Game Ever, at least for me.
Now I need to explain why this matters a lot more than you may at first believe.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time today arguing that its the responsibility of everyone in a community to help players learn and get better when they come to an IP for the first time. There are many disparate arguments for this, of course: some will tell you it is the individual’s responsibility to ensure they know how to play beforehand, that you need to put in hours of work to learn and grasp the subtleties of any new title. People like me, who know their learning curve is hardly shallow or short, will counter with the understanding that often, what you need is support and understanding to make things work for you in the short term. The truth, of course, exists somewhere between two extremes on the same timeline as these outlooks. No two people are ever the same. However, and this is crucial, what makes Warcraft the best game ever at least for me was the fact that you got both by default when you picked up the title for the first time.
Because of the way in which the MMO was designed, you needed other people very early on. Yes, you could flounder about alone for quite a while (and I did) but when you hit 60, everything pretty much demanded other players to operate successfully, and because it wasn’t just about just hitting everything until it died and you needed help? You were forced to adapt or die. Ironically, that mentality eventually became the reason why I withdrew from formal raiding, but only because I wasn’t prepared to put in the hours online and would prefer to live in the Real World. I know that casual raiding guilds exist, but I’m not a casual. That’s the thing: I have to work really very hard and spend a long time practising to be good. Once I’m there, it consumes everything. I’m an obsessive, and that’s my problem, and nothing at all to do with Azeroth.
This means, in the end, I accept Warcraft is the best game ever because it still allows me to play it in a way that doesn’t eat up all of my life. I can exist alone now and not worry that I’m holding other people back. As the MMO has evolved to accommodate people like me, I’ve grown into that new role with surprising ease. However, what this does make me conscious of is the fact that somehow, as is obviously the case with titles like Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm, if you’re not playing constantly with other players, will your performance and abilities decrease or become rusty over time? I’ve been levelling alts in the last few weeks and having picked up a priest for the first time for over a year, I find myself surprisingly comfortable with the change. Ironically this is a character with items in her bank left over from the original Invasion event from The Burning Crusade into Wrath, who I rolled in order to play Zul’Aman when it was 10 players. She’s changed race since then too, but I remain able to do what is needed to play her well.
Hang on, though, is that really true? An awful lot has altered in healing from then until now: many spells now have timers that never existed, and lots of abilities have simply vanished or been removed. However, despite all of this, I’m still able to play and enjoy what I do. The real test, of course, will come if I choose to take up the challenge of organised play. With LFR/LFG I have a choice to go and do this at this stage of proceedings, so late into an Expansion, with little or no penalty even if it is with a group of random strangers. However, I realised today, this won’t happen. It’s not that I don’t have the need for the gear, or a desire to improve. My entire incentive list for group play used to be based solely around wanting to hang out with a specific group of people and now those individuals no longer take part? My interest has effectively vanished. Yes, I could make new friends and start that journey anew, and I have at least taken some steps to facilitate this in my current environment. But the fact remains that in End Game, my desires no longer mesh with the people making this game. That doesn’t mean that Warcraft is the best game ever only if you do it at cap, far from it. The reality for me is that, like it or not, my enjoyment comes from a hybrid of factors that oddly include listening to other people talking about raiding but not doing it myself, occasionally mucking about in old content, but hoping that the next Expansion is the one all my old friends come back for.
You and I both know that’s not likely to occur, and so I find myself adjusting my outlook accordingly. Legion’s got a lot going for it in terms of making a return attractive, but it’s just as likely I might end up with a completely different set of friends to play with. The killer in this is how well Legion grasps that gaming now isn’t the way it was in Vanilla, with all of us having entire days to waste on a single instance. The Garrison experiment showed that there was attractiveness wrapped up for some in a process that only demanded you log in for 15 minutes at a time. You could remain friends and use the game as the community/chat channel it clearly is, and still have a life to boot. That mattered an awful lot more than I suspect many players actually realised, myself included. If Legion can recreate that yet still give people the change to feel a part of something significant? That’s no bad thing at all.
So when I say Warcraft is the best game ever, a complex set of factors is at play. However there is one specific reason which trumps all of the others, often without me ever having to even log in at all. This was the game I never let beat me. I may now not play at a level that others ascribe or aim for, and I might yet never do the formal process again, but there was a time where the perfect storm did actually exist. I was there, and there was progression and achievement: bosses died, people celebrated. There were great moments, and I remember many of them. However, what I now recall with greater clarity were the instants when I actually got to be myself and didn’t stress about ability. The moments when I’d solo amongst the group work, where I felt confident in my own skills without the need to justify myself to my peers. That’s when I realise that Warcraft is the best game ever because it allows me to be what I want to be without pressure.
The problem when you start throwing around suggestions of things being better than others is the undoubted subjectivity this is created from. Having played for as long as I have, and having seen an awful lot of titles come and go, I cannot remember another game that left such a lasting impression on me, or that I felt the need to remain with for as many years. It wasn’t just the people or the place, it was both that have changed my outlook on so many things. However, there is something else too, that sets Azeroth apart from any other virtual world I have chosen to inhabit in over forty years. Despite many people’s assertion that the world is in places dead or at best worryingly static, this whole still lives and breathes with a vibrancy that I cannot find anywhere else. I may be able to lose myself in Civilisation for hours at a time, but only Azeroth is a home, a place that I exist simultaneously to the real world.
A lot of people may believe that a lot of long term damage has been done in the last few years to Warcraft, but at least for me this is a long way from the truth. It is with a fair deal of confidence I proclaim Warcraft is the Best Game Ever, and it will take something significant indeed to ever amend that opinion in my mind. If you have an IP out there and are willing to give it a try? Away you go, but I really doubt you’ll get anywhere close.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday