World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft’s Experience Road, Less Traveled

World of Warcraft's Experience Road, Less Traveled

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months considering what changes to both classes and specs in Legion will mean for an average player like me. The problem I see, at least from my spot in the demographic, is that there are two distinct camps: those happy with change, and those who aren’t. It happens almost every expansion without fail, after all. Trying to keep everyone golden is often an impossible task. My biggest concern, I must be honest, is what happens to the questing experience on the Broken Isles. Warcraft’s experience road, less travelled by many players, is the one I enjoy the most, but the biggest problem suffered in Warlords of Draenor was the utter absence of choice during the journey, especially on your fifth or sixth alt.

That’s why lootable treasures were introduced, and the Bonus Objectives, but providing choice for certain sets of players can be something of a mug’s game. It doesn’t even matter a lot of the time if you provide a resource such as the Adventure Guide to point the way. In fact, in many cases, telling players what they can do will result in exactly the opposite being attractive: you only need an unpredictable young child with a grumpy attitude and a desire for chocolate to know that sometimes reverse psychology is the ONLY way you’re going to get a quiet life. This entire concept of providing information regardless of its actual usefulness isn’t new: after all, datamining sites have been doing that for years. The idea of people taking any notice of what they’re told… well, some will, some won’t, and for everyone else it comes down to being at least offered the option which can as a result dictate how we consider the approach to ‘mature’ game play.

World of Warcraft's Experience Road, Less Traveled

This then boils down to not just about simplifying or trivialising the journey from A to B, or making said trip easier or less enjoyable. It is more about giving the power in game back to the player, and the designers packaging that decision for the individual, to decide what matters without them telling us the path we ought to tread. The problem comes next when the complexity of choice becomes a hindrance to actual progression. That’s when it will matter what the algorithm decides is important based on the position of your character: this isn’t simply a linear game, it never has been, and Blizzard this time are going out of their way to ensure that you’re not restricted in the path you take on the Broken Isles on the way to a specified goal: whether that’s 110 the first time, or the last. However, strict linear progressions are a vital component of the issues you can subsequently solve, especially in relation to gear relevance and entry to raiding/instanced content. It’s a bit of a Column A/Column B trade off, when all is said and done. You could have one without the other, but it works best if both linear and non-linear choice can exist together for the optimum amount of informed decision making.

There’s normally a lively amount of debate around the Blogsphere regarding the characters we use or interact with, and fair representation of all the diversity we find in the real world in the computer-generated one. Should it really matter whether we have an accurate scope of choice or not in a virtual environment? Well, yes it should, because without the option to choose and understand all the options you could reasonably be said to being disingenuous to the potential audience you’re attempting to engage. However, it isn’t essential to enjoy the experience, and it’s not a prerequisite for any gaming company to satisfy such desires, despite the fact that this choice can directly influence so many other potential consequences. In fact, some might argue that too many decisions in terms of race, gender or sexuality only leads to more confusion, that the simplistic choices allow players to not worry or focus on the issues that involve them in the real world and instead concentrate the mind on the business of actually playing a game, which for many people is really the point of this entertainment to begin with.

World of Warcraft's Experience Road, Less Traveled

Ideally, these arguments shouldn’t even happen. The perfect game, if it were to exist, would allow anyone the opportunity to create whatever they wished and to play the game in any manner of different ways and not be ‘wrong.’ You could reasonably argue that a format akin to The Sims would allow this to happen because it allows the freedom of multiple choices across a myriad of different options. However this can only come to pass if enough options are provided by the game-makers to begin with. The strength of immersion depends absolutely and unequivocally on the developer in control of the number and scope of options presented to the player. Creating the illusion of ‘freedom’ in terms of decision making is something that ultimately allowed the original Dev team the opportunity to make World of Warcraft as popular as it undoubtedly was in it’s heyday because not restricting people allowed an expansion of free thinking and independent interpretation and interaction with aspects of the gaming world. Ultimately that independence came with a coda: there’s only so much you can do with the non-linear/linear decision making process, loaded with a set number of options, to maintain sustained interest for protracted periods.

Ironically, attempting to provide players with more possibilities has resulted in less people because of the restrictions that those linear progressions have imposed on the one resource the Devs cannot control: your time. What you spend your time doing in-game is perhaps the most important choice you can ever make when you play, and it’s the one factor Activision-Blizzard have absolutely no control over. This is a significant contributing factor to a huge number of arguments based on choice: we’re all on the watch, and if we’re going to be doing anything that wastes that most precious of commodities, then it needs to push the right buttons. It should be a representation of what we are, what we associate with, and what we agree with. Warcraft’s experience road should be entertainment and thought provoking, and it should set an example to other people, to the world in general. It should represent our online persona, and what we are about. For most people, time becomes the commodity that choice wastes or doesn’t utilize correctly, or simply the factor that determines how much time and effort we plunge into our efforts.

World of Warcraft's Experience Road, Less Traveled

It doesn’t matter how brilliant a game is if you can’t make the time to play it, or if you simply don’t have the time due to extenuating circumstances. No manner of enticement will make a limited timeframe as attractive as a limitless one, unless you can precisely plan and decide what you’re going to do at any given point. A guide makes the decisions for you, not just when you’re a noob, but perhaps when the Paradox of Choice becomes too much for you to cope with after a hard day. Six days a week you may be happy to allow ‘could’ a way in, but once in a while, just knowing what to do without thinking is a benefit to everyone. Choice is a harsh mistress. Giving people more might seem like its a false economy, but only if you have a dearth of options to begin with. In game, we currently have pretty much nothing acting as a guide for any level of player, regardless of their longevity. Having SOMETHING, therefore, to act as a starting point can never be a bad thing.

However, and this is crucial to Warcraft’s experience road by most only interested in arriving at endgame to begin raiding, time becomes a different entity entirely. If it matters you’ll make it to kill a boss, or come first, or to gain that all important Server First. Time is paid for in effort and a willing sacrifice to progression. Mostly, it becomes irrelevant if the goal is of greater significance to the whole. That’s where my life alone, and my friends in a guild, become two ends of a scale that has all manner of lives and circumstances in between. All of them are relevant, and Blizzard understands only too well the importance of catering to them all. The announcement of Beta last week paves the way for many new ways to use time in constructive fashion, and paths to questing that don’t simply cover the 100-110 path. In fact, if Blizzard get this right? The World Quest could become the saving grace of Legion for months after everybody’s got at least one max-level main.

I know there’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth this week over decisions for Legion, that players feel that this is a tyranny of unnecessary choice that doesn’t need to be made. I’m really not that worried about the cost of switching anything, because I don’t raid or play enough organized content for this to be an issue. My concern has been, and continues to be, how Blizzard allows us to choose the path we tread, and in that regard the game looks very healthy indeed. No, I’m not going to spoil you as to why, all I’ll say is that the wait will be worth your time. While you do, take the time to consider why you travel this road in Azeroth, and what truly matters most in your journey.

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